Newark's ban on Uber at airport, train station is back on

By Dan Ivers | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on February 23, 2016

Taxi drivers celebrate at Newark City Hall Tuesday after officials announced they would ticket or tow drivers with Uber, Lyft and other ride-sharing services operating at the city's airport and train station.

 

NEWARK — It was on and then apparently off, but it appears Newark's attempt to ban Uber and other ride-sharing company at city transit hubs is here to stay.

Hundreds of local taxi drivers who packed council chambers at City Hall Tuesday erupted in cheers and applause Tuesday after officials announced that a plan to ticket and tow drivers with the companies — which had apparently been scrapped last week — would be enforced after all.

"We are trying to be fair to you," said South Ward Councilman John Sharpe James. "The major issue right now is that the other ride-sharing companies are not going away. But they do not have a right to operate out of the airport."

City officials first announced the plan to crack down on Uber and its ilk earlier this month, saying their operation at Newark Liberty International Airport and Newark Penn Station violated a city ordinance that requires all commercial vehicles operating at the venues to obtain licenses. The news delighted taxi drivers and their unions, who claim the largely unregulated companies pose a danger to both their profits and public safety.

Earlier this week, however, Acting Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose revealed that the plan was on hold until plans could be clarified with the city's chief prosecutors and attorneys.

Though many of the drivers who crowded council chambers on Tuesday believed the plan had been called off altogether, Mayor Ras Baraka assured them it had never been taken off the table.

"We have to enforce our laws," he said, though he cautioned that the city alone could not single handedly stem the tide of app-based livery services.

"The state legislature is going to have to act. I don't think its going to be completely solved until the state legislature steps in."

Uber previously promised to defy any ban imposed at the transit hubs, saying it would reimburse drivers for any fees or penalties incurred on the job. Spokesman Matt Wing said Tuesday that the company disagreed with the city's position and urged it to follow the leads of the Port Authority and NJ Transit, each of which have said they would not seek to penalize drivers at either the airport or train station.

"We do not know why City of Newark has flip flopped and decided to once again target Uber despite the fact that more than two thousand of the city's residents depend on the app to make ends meet," he said.

While Newark does not patrol the airport, it does perform license and inspection checks on limos and taxis there. More than 300 tickets have already been issued as a result of those operations this year, according to Ambrose.

Newark council members expressed their desire to have the ride-sharing companies register drivers in order to operate within city limits, both to ensure they passed background checks and bring in a new source of revenue.

Many of the drivers and their proxies in attendance echoed the sentiment, noting that they paid large license, insurance and other fees in order to operate their cabs.

"(Taxi drivers) have been playing by the rules for a long time," said Hector M. Corchado, a former Newark deputy mayor and police officer now working as a lobbyist for local taxi groups.

"I don't think anybody in this room does not understand that the other transportation services are not going anywhere. All they're asking is, please let them work by the same standards that we have."

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