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Launched in 2014 by journalist Sean Baker, Med City Beat is an independent news source covering government, business and culture in Rochester, Minnesota.

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Hickey, Staver and Hruska vote to delay council action on Uber in Rochester

Hickey, Staver and Hruska vote to delay council action on Uber in Rochester

Those hoping for Uber by the holidays were left with a lump of coal from the Rochester City Council early Tuesday morning.

The council failed to pass a first reading of a proposed ordinance that would allow transportation network companies (TNCs) to operate locally.

 
 

The motion tied 3-3, with council members Mark Hickey, Ed Hruska and council president Randy Staver voting nay. Council member Sandra Means left the meeting prior to the vote. The TNC discussion was the final topic in a meeting that lasted more than nine hours and did not conclude until after 4 a.m.

Earlier in the day, the council met with representatives from Uber to discuss modifications the company was requesting to the ordinance. During the meeting, Hickey grilled the Uber reps line-by-line on issues regarding annual inspections and quality control of vehicles and drivers. Later when the ordinance was put to a vote, Hickey still had concerns about some of the provisions.

"The fact that we can't take the time to go through and reconcile the differences, I don't understand that," said Hickey, in response to council member Michael Wojcik's request to make a motion on the ordinance. "We asked questions about the changes but we didn't come to any agreement."

 
 

Council member Nick Campion, frustrated by the lack of progress on the issue, fired back at Hickey's comments. He noted the topic of ride-sharing has already been discussed repeatedly in council meetings and public hearings. 

"What I hear a lot is people pointing at, 'Here's a list of things.' There's no concrete change," said Campion. "If you feel confident, or if you feel like you want to make a change, then make a motion to amend it. I'm happy to second. But right now, I'm comfortable with the language in there. It's been out there for three weeks now." 

Staver and Hruska went a step further in their resistance. Both echoed concerns brought up by cab companies that the addition of TNCs would weaken taxi operations and leave Rochester with a lower quality of service.

 
 

"Some of the testimony we heard last time was a little bothersome from the taxi companies — that they would perhaps have to go to the independent contractor route, not have the call center, etcetera," said Staver. He later added, "I'm not comfortable yet that we're achieving the level playing field we're looking after."

The comments were somewhat of an about-face for Staver, who just last week said addressing the taxicab and TNC ordinances at the same time "might create problems" given the TNC ordinance was "racing through the finish line." Staver, at the time, suggested talking with taxi companies after its work with TNCs.

Council member Wojcik agreed the council should revisit the taxicab regulations after it passes a ride-sharing ordinance. But he urged the council to move quickly on Uber, arguing that Rochester is not doing anything that cities across the world have not done already.

 
 

"If for example we were actually rushing this, and hundreds of millions of people haven't already had access to this, we might want to think about this," he said. "But trying to reinvent the wheel — I don't think that's the route to go."

Several local taxi drivers spoke during the public comment period about fear of possibly losing their jobs due to increased competition and the need to create a "level playing field." About an equal number of Uber supporters — mainly young adults — also stayed up through the night to share their thoughts.

"Rochester is a unique city, but Uber is in 500 cities all over the world," said Shruthi Naik, a resident of Kutzky Park. "It is not so unique that we cannot find some sort of workable agreement that is some compromise or combination of the 500-plus different ordinances out there worldwide where taxi services exist in combination with Uber."

 
 

Council members will revisit the topic at its Dec. 12 committee of the whole meeting. If they are unable to reach an agreement then, it's likely the new council would take up the subject at the start of the new year. It is worth noting that incoming council member Annalissa Johnson — replacing the retiring Sandra Means — has stated her support for allowing TNC services.

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(Left to right: Hickey, Staver and Hruska)

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