UPDATE: City of Boise Continues Vetting Draft Ordinance, State Introduces Bill to Allow Uber Statewide


  • Adam Rosenlund

UPDATE: Friday, Feb. 27 at 9:45 a.m.

The city has decided to move forward with the ordinance draft that was discussed on Tuesday's meeting, despite Uber's sudden disinterest in negotiating an operating agreement with the city. The ordinance isn't specifically for Uber; rather, it's for transportation network companies at large. The draft will be given to stakeholders today, according to the Mayor's Office spokesperson, Mike Journee, to receive their feedback. 

The ordinance will be presented at the next Boise City Council meeting Tuesday, March 3.

This comes after Uber suspended operations in Boise yesterday, citing "high and growing costs combined with unworkable and onerous regulations being proposed by the City leave Uber no other choice than to suspend operations in Boise for the foreseeable future."

But in a blog post, Uber wrote the "future's still bright for Uber in Idaho." 

That's because yesterday afternoon, Uber's lobbyist brought a bill before state legislators in the House State Affairs Committee. Boise State Public Radio reported that the lawmakers agreed to introduce legislation that would allow Uber and other rideshare companies to operate statewide, trumping local government's desire to regulate them.

Unlike the city's ordinance draft, the statewide bill would not require Uber drivers to get a commercial license. It would regulate the drivers separately from taxi and shuttle drivers, but still require background checks.

Two legislators, including Rep. John McCrostie (D-Boise) voted against the bill. 

UPDATE: Thursday, Feb. 26 at 1:50 p.m.

The city of Boise was preparing to give Uber and other stakeholders a drafted ordinance tomorrow, according to Boise Mayor Dave Bieter's spokesman, Mike Journee. He told Boise Weekly the ordinance would have given Uber a chance to provide feedback and engage in the process.

"But apparently they decided that they're not interested in doing that," Journee said. 

Journee reiterated that the city cares most about public safety—making sure anyone who takes a ride from Uber is assured that the driver has no concerning criminal history, that the car has been properly insured and inspected, and that an avenue for the customer to provide a complaint to the city against the driver exists.

"Unfortunately, Uber apparently doesn't think our desire to create a safe transportation network is something that they should concern themselves with," Journee said

Journee isn't sure what will happen with the drafted ordinance yet. He said it wasn't created specifically for Uber, but for any rideshare businesses like it. Originally, a public hearing on the ordinance was slated for Tuesday, March 31, but since Uber suspended its service in Boise today, the draft's timeline is up in the air.

Uber wrote in an email that people can still request a ride in the Treasure Valley, outside of Boise city limits. Those rides will no longer be free.

ORIGINAL POST: Thursday, Feb. 26 at 12:36 p.m. 

Controversial rideshare company Uber will suspend operations in Boise, effective at noon today. 

In a letter to Boise Mayor Dave Bieter and City Council members, Uber General Manager Bryce Bennett said that after four months of operating in Boise, "we find ourselves at an impasse."

"Despite assurances from the Mayor's staff and city officials that a mutually-workable agreement could and would be reached without unnecessary delay, the City is contemplating an ordinance that imposes outdated rules on modern innovations, with no firm end date in sight," the letter stated.

Uber, which launched in Boise in October 2014, has been waiting for an operating agreement for several months. The company came close to an interim agreement in a City Council meeting on Feb. 10, but the Council slammed the brakes on the proposal and left Uber circling the block yet again.

Without a legal framework to do business in the city, Uber drivers have been forbidden to charge for rides in Boise, though the company has flouted that rule in the past—particularly on this past New Year's Eve, when its drivers charged fares despite a cease-and-desist order.

Uber spokesman Michael Amodeo told Boise Weekly that complying with the order not to charge for services hasn't been cheap.

"We've been covering the full cost of all those rides so partner drivers have been earning an income," Amodeo said. 

The letter continues to state that "high and growing costs combined with unworkable and onerous regulations being proposed by the City leave Uber no other choice than to suspend operations in Boise for the foreseeable future."

BoiseMayorandCouncilOpenLetter.pdf Read Uber's letter to the city of Boise here.

This comes after a Boise City Council work session on the afternoon of Feb. 24, in which Council members worked with city staff members Craig Croner and Jamie Heinzerling to create an ordinance that would allow Uber to legally take money from customers in the city. Representatives from the company did not have a seat at the table, though.

Croner and Heinzerling presented a draft of an ordinance for what they're calling Transportation Network Companies, which would include rideshare platforms like Lyft and Uber that specifically rely on smartphone technology to match up drivers—driving their personal cars—with citizens who need a ride somewhere. 

The Council discussed requiring Uber drivers get a commercial drivers license, undergo a background check with fingerprints and carry a doctor-issued medical card ensuring they are healthy enough to drive members of the public. A fee of $30 was to be levied on each driver and $150 charged to the company to secure a business license. 

Council members also wanted to exclude anyone with a domestic violence charge from working as an Uber driver, and asked for once-a-year inspections at the city auto shop where taxis are also inspected. A nondiscrimination clause was to be included in the draft as well. 

The question of insurance stumped most of the city officials. Uber offers $1 million in insurance coverage as soon as an Uber driver is en route to pick up a customer, but when a driver is signed onto the platform and waiting for a client, the insurance coverage does not apply. Regular insurance polices often don't cover drivers using personal vehicles for commercial purposes, leaving a potential gap in coverage and a lot of gray area.

The Council settled on a disclaimer for all Uber drivers, warning that they must ensure their insurance companies will cover them during that gap. Failure to do so would result in penalties. 

Through the course of the three-hour-long work session, Council members also outlined rules for Uber at the Boise Airport—drivers would not be allowed to wait in the taxi cue or the cellphone lots and would need to be charged an additional $1.50 for each trip to the airport (just like taxis)—and took aim at a controversial Uber practice called "surge pricing" in which drivers charge more for rides during times of particularly high demand. The Council stipulated that Uber could not mark-up rates during a declared emergency. 

A draft of the ordinance was to be presented to the City Council next week and a public hearing was slated for March 31.

The letter from Uber, however, shows dissatisfaction with the recent work session: 

"It has become clear, most recently during the Feb. 24 council work session, that the City is pursuing an unworkable and outdated regulatory framework that would make it impossible for Uber to operate in Boise. Rather than crafting rules that recognize ridesharing is unique, as almost 20 jurisdictions across the United States have done, the city is trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, with no end date for approval in sight."

In an interview with BW earlier this week, Amodeo remained tight-lipped on a number of issues that have arisen with Uber since it landed in Boise. Amodeo didn't disclose how many Uber drivers are on the roads in the Treasure Valley, only saying "dozens," although it was suggested during the City Council work session that that number was closer to 100. 

Amodeo also didn't want to discuss why Uber decided to start charging for rides on New Year's Eve, which caused the city to issue a cease-and-desist order. 

"Charging for rides allows us to continue to operate and offer the service in the Treasure Valley," Amodeo said. "We have been in Boise for four months, and we have seen a tremendous response on the side of the riders and the partner drivers."

In his letter to Bieter, Bennett listed a multitude of reasons why Uber was safe and effective. The letter even stated that "Uber wants to help make Boise the 'most liveable city in America,'" echoing a phrase often repeated by the mayor.

Suspending services in the City of Trees doesn't necessarily mean the end of  Uber in the state. In closing the letter, Bennett wrote:

"While we are suspending operations in the City of Boise effective immediately, we still believe the future is bright for ridesharing in Idaho. That is why we originally made the decision to launch in the Gem State, and it is why we will continue to work with anyone who shares our belief that ridesharing is an innovation whose time has come in Idaho."