The city is taking steps to level the playing field between traditional taxi services and transportation networks like Uber.
City commissioners voted unanimously Thursday afternoon on an ordinance that will create a new set of regulations for the app-based transportation service, which was introduced to Gainesville in August 2014.
Uber, unlike taxis, was not initially subjected to Chapter 28 of Gainesville’s Code of Ordinances, which addresses everything from the driver-screening process to how cars should look. Local taxi drivers protested against this imbalance.
Gainesville Regional Airport passed its own set of regulations in December requiring Uber drivers to secure a permit in an effort to even the scales.
“Many cities feel it’s an either/or,” said Allan Penska, CEO of Gainesville Regional Airport. “We are trying to get both to live together.”
The ordinance passed by the city commission will modify regulations on basic health, safety and welfare concerns in taxis and create rules for companies like Uber that will address insurance requirements, inspections, vehicle identification and operation details.
For example, Uber drivers will not be able to solicit passengers or pick them up via a traditional street hail — only prearranged pickups will be allowed.
Uber drivers voiced concerns at the commission meeting, speaking to the thoroughness of Uber’s own background checks and pointing out vague language.
Uber driver John Rohan objected to language that addressed careless or reckless driving outside the context of causing bodily harm. He said the wording of the ordinance could allow Gainesville police to make subjective calls on what constitutes careless or reckless driving.
Rohan said he recently spent a day contesting a reckless driving charge, which was later cleared. Had the charges stuck, he said, the police could have reported it to Uber, potentially jeopardizing his job. Rohan said he has heard similar stories from fellow Uber drivers, many of whom are unaware they can effectively contest the charges or simply do not have the time to do so.
Uber driver Adam Kucharski said that although he is mostly satisfied with the ordinance, he believes taxi services should catch up to companies like Uber, not the other way around.
“Taxi companies are forcing us to dial back the clock,” he said. “They’re operating in analog. We’re operating in digital.”
Melissa Mihm contributed to the reporting.