Newark Uber, taxi drivers go head-to-head over proposed ordinance

By Laura Herzog | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on April 06, 2016

 

NEWARK — Uber drivers and taxi drivers both voiced outrage Wednesday in Newark City Hall concerning a proposed ordinance that could curtail ride-sharing companies like Uber in Newark.

While the legislation would theoretically help cab drivers regain some local business, some taxi representatives claim a proposed amendment to the law wouldn't help them enough.

Unlike a ban of ride-sharing companies at Newark airport that was discussed first in February, this law calls for a $1,000 fee for these drivers to operate in the city.

Uber driver-partners and Ana Mahony, the general manager for Uber NJ, were at the Newark City Council meeting to fight the move Wednesday afternoon. Dozens of taxi drivers and several union representatives also attended the meeting, some brandishing signs condemning Uber.

"UBER IS DEADLY ILLEGAL," one sign read.

Many taxi drivers cheered when the council introduced the amendment, but on closer examination, some were not so happy.

The final vote on the proposed amendment could come at an April 20 meeting, city officials said.

Among the law's requirements, the ordinance calls for ride-sharing company drivers to obtain city permits and $500 licenses that prove the driver has passed a criminal background check, and requires the company to obtain a business license.

The driver must also "pay a fee of $1,000 per year to be issued a Liberty License to operate in the City of Newark and be entitled to arrange for the transportation of passengers from Newark Liberty International Airport and/or Newark Penn Station," the law reads.

The full proposed law can be read here.

Uber representatives likened the fees to a "ban" because drivers would be unable afford them. But some taxi cab drivers feel the proposed regulation doesn't go far enough, noting that they wanted a full ban from Uber drivers working at the airport and train station.

According to Uber, 2,000 of its drivers currently operate on Newark — jobs it claims would be threatened by the proposal. In a statement, the company called today's hearing "a mockery of the democratic process."

"At a time when Newark's unemployment rate is one of the highest in New Jersey, it is shocking that the city's elected officials are trying to ban Uber, stopping two thousand Newark residents from earning a living," Mahony said in a prepared statement. "There can no longer be any doubt that the power of taxi special interests matters more to Mayor (Ras) Baraka and his City Council supporters than the economic future of their own city and constituents."

Uber contractor Raymere Edwards said this law makes no sense.

Edwards, a former Newark resident who now lives in Irvington, said that thanks to his part-time Uber business, he was able to quit his job as a cook in the hospitality industry and pick up a lower-paying dream job working as a cook at a Newark homeless shelter.

"Taxis these days, they're dirty inside. They're uncomfortable," he said, noting that he enjoys talking to airport customers about Newark's attractions. "The cab drivers don't talk to you, if they even say anything to you besides 'where you going,' some of them are rude."

Cab company drivers meanwhile said they don't want to work for Uber. They claim it's unsafe for both the passenger and the driver, partly because Uber contractors use their own cars and have no partition.

"First the city told us 'no (they won't work in Newark airport),' now they're telling us, 'yeah,'" said Classic Express Taxi employee Douglas Boseman, who said he works 16 hour days and now makes $150 instead of $300 a day, since Uber moved in. "It's not good enough."

The president of Newark Cab Association, Inc., Abbas-Abbas, said his union includes over 2,000 Newark residents, who have lost 60 to 70 percent of their business and are struggling to make their rent.

"They have to follow the regulation and the rules like everybody," he said. "I'm not happy... They took the ban out."

Outside the meeting, Baraka said the council is just being fair.

"Folks have made this about Uber, but it's about all shared services... There's been stuff going around that we have this 'anti-Uber' campaign. It's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard of in my life," he said. "We're just trying to level the playing field, that's all. I think its the fair thing to do. Of course some people will be upset. I think that's the nature of compromise. Nobody walks away completely happy."

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