Birmingham City Council

To Uber or Not to Uber: That is the Question Before Birmingham’s Transportation Committee

Nov. 20, 2017 — Birmingham City Councilors say they may revisit the ordinance that allowed ridesharing company Uber to begin operating in the city.

During its first meeting of the 2017-2021 term, the council’s transportation committee — now led by District 5 Councilor Darrell O’Quinn — received a presentation from Stephanie Jones, a representative of Birmingham Cab Drivers United.

Speaking on behalf of “all the Birmingham-area cab drivers,” Jones expressed concerns about ridesharing companies such as Uber and Lyft, which she said operated “under no rules, regulations, nothing.”

In particular, she pointed to a perceived lack of accountability ride-sharing companies have to city governments, specifically regarding background checks — which, currently, are done in-house at their respective companies.

“Our concern is the safety of the public,” Jones said. “I’m just so afraid that one of the passengers is going to get hurt.” Jones also warned that Birmingham could be liable in the event of a rider’s accident or injury. “They’re going to come after the city, too,” she said.

City law department representative Jim Stanley urged O’Quinn and Councilor John Hilliard to refrain from discussing the ordinance outside of a private executive session because the discussion “could result in possible litigation.” The third member of the committee, Lashunda Scales, was not present.

Birmingham city government’s relationship with ridesharing companies — Uber, in particular — has been a rocky one. The city passed an ordinance to allow the ridesharing companies to operate in the city in December 2015 after protracted and strained negotiations. Opponents of the measure — the most vocal of which was, perhaps, former District 2 Councilor Kim Rafferty — cited Uber’s unwillingness to compromise. Rafferty told BirminghamWatch shortly before leaving office that she was unhappy with the ordinance that had been passed.

“The end result was a private company came in and wrote a law specific to themselves and got it passed,” she said. “That’s not free enterprise.”

O’Quinn and Hilliard requested that the law department provide them with copies of the ridesharing ordinance to review — after which, O’Quinn said, the transportation committee would “follow up” on the issue.