City council directs staff to prepare ordinance allowing Uber in Rochester
The Rochester City Council on Monday directed staff to draft an ordinance that would allow transportation network companies to operate within city limits.
The motion was brought forward by the two youngest members of the council, Michael Wojcik and Nick Campion. They specifically requested staff to prepare a general ordinance, similar to ones in St. Paul and Minneapolis, that would allow Uber to bring its services to town.
Campion urged the council not to be too prescriptive from the start, but instead do everything possible to welcome TNCs to Rochester. After ride-sharing services are up and running, the city can go back and take a second look to see whether the new model fits the needs of the community, he said.
"It's something our community needs, and it's something we need to consider as part of our transit changes," said Campion.
Back in early spring, Uber approached the city about potentially coming to Rochester if new regulations were adopted to fit its business model. City Clerk Aaron Reeves, who has been the point person for discussions on ride-sharing, issued a memo earlier this month outlining the city's options:
- Do nothing.
- Adopt a general ordinance that would allow any TNC to come in and operate under basic guidelines.
- Develop a much more focused ordinance that would allow for TNCs to operate in a way that would be a partnership with the city and local taxicab franchises (more on that here).
While Wojcik and Campion favored option two, council president Randy Staver suggested he would also like to look at the third option. Staver said it may be worth tailoring an ordinance "a bit more for some of the unique elements of Rochester."
"I will say that I will have questions in terms of the public safety aspect, protection — from a certain extent — for surge pricing, things of that nature," said Staver. "So those are some critical elements I will be looking at in whatever version comes forward."
Safety concerns were echoed by others on the council. Uber does provide its own online background checks of drivers, but has moved out of cities (notably Austin, Tex.) that have adopted more stringent fingerprint-based screening.
Wojcik acknowledged the council should do its own due diligence on public safety before approving any new ordinance. However, he argued Rochester should not try to "reinvent the wheel, either."
"If this were something novel and not available to hundreds of millions of people, I could understand the caution," said Wojcik. "But I just want something to look at and something we can put up for a vote, because the people of Rochester really want this."
Monday's vote was not an approval of the proposed changes. Rather, it was the start of what will likely be an extensive debate on TNCs. The council is scheduled to continue discussing the issue at its meeting on Oct. 17.
"It's one of those things that we've talked about — and we're a very busy council — and it's slipped to the back page," said council member Mark Bilderback. "This gives us the opportunity to not let it slip and bring it forward and discuss it. There's nothing saying we're going to pass anything the next time we look at it. We're just going to look at it."
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(Cover photo: The Med City Beat)