Gulf Shores city leaders unanimously approved an ordinance that could bring Uber and other ridesharing companies into the municipality last week, following a strong discussion from the council and …
Gulf Shores city leaders unanimously approved an ordinance that could bring Uber and other ridesharing companies into the municipality last week, following a strong discussion from the council and community members.
Revenue Supervisor Marcy Kichler said the creation of the ordinance was a response to a public demand that has occurred for several years.
"Our citizens and visitors have expressed a strong desire to have this transportation option available to them,” Kichler said. “In response to those requests, we drafted an ordinance. We did make it as similar as we could to our taxi regulations, as close as was reasonable considering the different business models.” Kichler said an annual business license and franchise agreement, annual vehicle inspections conducted by a certified garage, national local criminal background checks, driving record checks and the national sexual offender database check will all be required in order to do business within the city. Primary auto liability insurance that provides at least $1 million in coverage would also be required.
Drivers that work for transportation network companies (TNCs) like Uber or Lyft would also not be allowed to solicit riders anywhere but on their apps.
Kichler told the council the ordinance also had an expiration clause for Dec. 31, 2018, which would allow the council the ability to change or get rid of the ordinance if the city chose to go another direction in the future.
Mayor Robert Craft asked if there had been any action from the state level on a bill that would govern operations for TNCs that could strip powers from municipalities to be able to regulate, tax or require business licenses.
“If the bill passes, the only thing we could do is say ‘Yes, you can have a TNC,’ or ‘No, you can’t,’” Kichler said. “That would be the only regulation we could control.”
“Uber would prefer it that way because they wouldn’t have multiple ordinances they would have to interpret,” Craft said. “They seemed to imply that if that didn’t go through, they were going to have to continue to decide whether or not they wanted to continue smaller city operations like ours. Even if we pass this, depending on the outcome of some of those things, Uber may not be here.”
Steve Smith, with Salty Dog Transportation, said he had concerns about TNCs being allowed into the municipalities like Gulf Shores with the ordinance as is. “I believe the city should revise the current TNC ordinance due to major short falls in the vetting of drivers for the TNC, which puts public safety at risk,” Smith said. “It also creates a hostile and grossly unbalanced transportation market.”
Smith said there would be an inherent unfairness in the rates and fares TNCs would be able to offer because there were no minimum or maximum rates in the TNC ordinance. Where local taxi companies charge about $2.31 a mile, Uber mobile could offer $1.50 mile, undercutting the local companies.
Smith said he also had concerns about the number of vehicles that could be allowed, as taxi companies are currently limited to six vehicles per franchise but Uber and other TNCs would have no limits placed on them. Craft said he understood the ordinance wasn’t perfect, but the city had been working on it for over a year. “The transportation requests of our customers are demanding Uber,” Craft said. “They want to be able to use that phone app to hail Uber to get in there, and there’s a high degree of confidence in it. We have transportation issues in this city.”
Craft said if the TNC ordinance was passed, the city could look at revisiting the taxi cab ordinance to make some changes that would make sure the city isn’t advantaging one over another.
Councilman Joe Garris said making all of the companies have level opportunities has been his concern throughout the discussions.
“I just want to make sure we’re giving everyone an equal playing field,” Garris said. “That’s always been my main concern with all of this.”
One resident questioned how the city could create separate ordinances for taxis and TNCs, calling it unfair practice.
Kichler told the resident that was a decision made by the state, and the city was following that law.
“The state said that transportation network companies are a different entity from taxi cabs,” Kichler said. “They made the differentiation, so it’s not for us to decide. Now we just need to put regulations in place.” Councilman Phillip Harris said the council had continued to debate some of the residents’ main concerns for over a year, but said the TNC ordinance was really a question of what risks the city was willing or not willing to take.
“The taxi businesses are a vital part of our community,” Harris said. “The problem we’re faced with is that there is an overwhelming demand for transportation that we can’t fill the void, so our risk is take the known risk of this other ordinance with Uber or Lyft or live with the risk that people are driving after they’ve been drinking. Which is worse? Which is the greater risk?” The council then voted to unanimously approve the new ordinance.
The council also:
- Approved an ABC license for Anglers at the Pier
- Authorized an agreement with Marbella Apartments for use of the city’s right of way.
- Passed a resolution supporting an appropriation of $10,000 to the Gulf Shores High School Drivers Education program.
- Entered into a mutual aid agreement with Baldwin County and several other local municipalities.
- Okayed a proposed legislative annexation bills to take certain properties along County Road 8 East into the city.