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Uber fires back at Boise, withdraws as state considers rules

Uber fires back at Boise, withdraws as state considers rules

Dustin Hurst
February 26, 2015
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February 26, 2015

If Boise had its own rating app, Uber would give Mayor Dave Bieter zero stars.

Gov. Butch Otter might have a shot at a better rating from the technology company.

Early Thursday morning, a lobbyist working on Uber’s behalf pitched legislation to allow for state regulation of its services after months of tussling with Boise over operating rules.

Just a few hours later, Uber announced a total withdrawal of services from city limits, though the company will continue operating in other Treasure Valley localities.

Uber, in a letter to the council, complained officials are dragging their feet as the company offers free rides around Boise. “Rather than crafting rules that recognize ridesharing is unique, as over 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,” Uber representative Bryce Bennett wrote.

The ridesharing service launched in Boise on Oct. 1 and has been offering free rides ever since, with the exception of a few days near the end of 2014. The company originally agreed not to charge for rides until the city settled on a regulatory framework, but switched course last December.

The company stood pat for a few days, until Boise regulators cited two drives for operating without government permission.

Now, Uber is looking for the state to handle matters, as it sees Boise as either unwilling or unable.

“I don’t expect the city of Boise to support this legislation,” Uber lobbyist Ken McClure told members of the House State Affairs Committee.

He also alluded to the trouble Uber’s had with Boise regulators. “Some places, we’ve had difficulties, frankly,” he said. “Uber’s had some difficulties.”

The measure would set strict regulations on companies like Uber and Lyft, who allow users to hail rides using smartphone apps. Uber allows drivers and riders to give each other ratings through its app, a measure the company believes helps protect consumers.

The company told Boise officials the extra regulations under consideration by the city are unnecessarily costly.

“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,” Bennett wrote.

The company said it’s been paying drivers an average of $24 per hour during the free ride period.

McClure suggested government get with the times as new ideas sprout in the economy.

“New technology brings new business opportunities,” McClure said.

Boise Councilor TJ Thomson, who supported a compromise framework earlier this year, told IdahoReporter.com he’s saddened by the developments.

“It is unfortunate,” Thomson said in an email. “Lauren McLean and I supported a short-term agreement that could have prevented this.”

McLean, in a social media post, echoed that sentiment. “We regret that we weren't more successful in getting the votes we needed to pass an interim operating agreement with Uber,” she said.

“Sometimes, new technologies require new ways of governing.”

Two legislators, including Boise Democrat John McCrostie, opposed the bill. McCrostie didn’t give a specific reason for voting against the measure, but asked McClure about Boise’s regulations during the hearing.

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