Alabama Metro Mayors Paving the Way for Uber in Their Cities

By Martin Swant | June 16, 2015

Mayors in several major Alabama cities are working to clear roadblocks to bring ride-hailing company Uber and others like it to their areas.

“If it can work in Nashville, if it can work in Charlotte, then it can work in Montgomery and Mobile and all of these other major cities,” Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange said.

The mayors of Montgomery and Huntsville said they want ordinance changes to allow the mobile app-based ride-hailing service to launch operations. The push comes as Uber cars began running in the port city of Mobile last week.

Strange said the city has been in discussions with Uber about regulations related to business fees and background checks. He said Montgomery is “pretty close” to working out a plan to propose to the city council by mid-summer.

Strange said taxi companies still serve a purpose in providing transportation in the city, but said customers should be able to decide whether to use traditional or nontraditional forms of transit.

“One of the goals is not to unfairly disadvantage them,” he said. “Having them on an even competition, I think that’s fair.”

Mobile’s mayor was the first in Alabama to officially welcome Uber.

Changes to the city’s ordinance still need to be approved by the Mobile City Council, but Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson said the city has worked to address issues such as fees, background checks and existing taxi company concerns.

“At the end of the day we feel like we reached a reasonable place where it was a win-win for everybody involved,” Stimpson said.

Billy Guernier, Uber’s general manager for East Coast expansion, said Mobile’s ordinance is one he hopes will become a model for other cities.

“Mobile has really taken a leadership role in seeing that ridesharing is good for a community,” he said.

An updated ordinance doesn’t guarantee Uber or any other ride-hailing service will move into a city, but Guernier said he’s “cautiously optimistic” about Montgomery and Huntsville.

“We’re open to working with anyone who wants to work with us when it comes to new rules in a new industry,” he said.

Uber’s road to Alabama hasn’t been without potholes. The company previously tried to enter Alabama’s largest city, Birmingham, and the college towns of Auburn and Tuscaloosa, but left after each city council tightened restrictions.

“The city of Birmingham seems to be behind other cities in terms of their interest in ride sharing,” Guernier said.

Birmingham Mayor William Bell could not immediately be reached for comment.

Uber opponents have expressed concern with how ride-hailing companies handle safety, fees and other competitive advantages.

State lawmakers tried taking a broader approach this legislative session by introducing a bill that would have created a statewide regulatory framework for ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft. The bill, which failed to gain traction, never got out of committee.

Huntsville has also spent the past six months researching how other cities across the U.S. have handled regulating the app-based rideshares.

Last weeek, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle announced a proposal that he said hopes will be right for Uber to enter the market. Proposed changes in Huntsville include requiring a one-time $5,000 annual company license fee rather than charging each vehicle. Other changes would include getting rid of the chauffeur’s license requirement and allowing companies to conduct their own background checks and vehicle inspections.

Battle said he expects the proposal introduced to the city council this week will be approved at the next meeting.

“It’s been interesting to work through this,” he said. “We as a community have been looking to try this, because it helps our transportation system that we already have in place.”

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