The Anchorage Assembly decided late Tuesday that more work needs to be done to reconcile two ordinances about ride-sharing services like Uber.
No action was taken on either ordinance, although public comment was heard on a proposal by Assembly vice chair Dick Traini and Assembly member Amy Demboski to exempt Uber and other ride-sharing services from most public regulations for commercial transportation.
Two proposed ordinances were referred back to an ad-hoc Assembly subcommittee, formed last week, that will look into how ride sharing may or may not fit into Anchorage municipal transportation codes, known as Title 11. Assembly member Bill Evans, who has his own ride-sharing ordinance, has been chosen to chair the committee and said he expects members to meet for the first time next week.
Evans' proposal would regulate ride-sharing services like Uber, but the regulations would be different from those currently imposed on local taxicabs under Title 11. It has been set for public comment on Nov. 18.
The ordinances come after Alaska Superior Court Judge Michael Corey ruled in early October that Uber must comply with all Anchorage taxi laws, unless it operates without charging customers. Uber has said it would comply with the judge's ruling and is currently offering only free rides in Anchorage -- although the company is still paying its drivers. Corey's ruling came after the city sent two cease-and-desist orders to Uber because it claimed the ride-sharing service was operating illegally in Anchorage.
The city believes that ride-sharing services, like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar, should face the same regulations as the local taxi industry -- including mandates for insurance amounts, driver prescreening, permits and video cameras in all cars -- a contention Uber denies.
Despite the delay in a final resolution to the ride-sharing service issue, more than 150 people showed up to testify about Traini and Demboski's ordinance. Many were Anchorage cabdrivers. They wore matching "Yes! Taxis. Safety First" stickers.
Many questioned the wisdom of allowing what they claim would be unfair competition with variable pricing. (In markets where Uber is allowed to charge its customers, it employs a surge-pricing model that automatically hikes rates by as much as 400 percent during times of peak demand.)
"When they get into my cab they know what the fare is, they know that there are not going to be any Mickey Mouse charges," said 20-year Anchorage cabdriver Augusto Alvarez.
Uber, now in 216 cities worldwide, has faced mounting opposition from local taxi companies and industry groups. Uber claims it is not a taxi company; it and other ride-sharing services don't own any cars. Its cars are personal vehicles, driven by their owners.
Uber claims it is merely a technology company -- offering an app that connects willing riders and drivers. As such, Uber claims it shouldn't have to adhere to the myriad regulations governing public and commercial transportation. Uber said it is used to the debate about its relatively new service as the list of cities where it operates expands.
"The thing is, innovation is, by definition, different," said Uber spokesperson Michael Amodeo. "It's new and as a result, when we launch in new markets, folks have a lot of questions."
One person who showed up to testify believes the problem lies not with Uber or cab companies but with governmental regulation.
"Fix Title 11 to accommodate free markets," said Bethany Marcum. "Get rid of all the regulations. Strike regulations from taxis and ride sharing."
The Assembly agreed to hear more public testimony on the Traini-Demboski ordinance on Nov. 18, keeping alive the legal stalemate between Uber and city officials and preventing Uber from charging its customers in Anchorage.