Ride-share company Uber may be coming to Tacoma

Staff writersMarch 12, 2014 

Uber may be coming to Tacoma.

The ride-sharing company said in post on Twitter Wednesday: “Hey Tacoma! We’ve got our sights set on you ...”

Offering various grades of service, Uber and other companies like it compete with traditional taxi services to provide people with rides. The city of Seattle, under pressure from cab companies, has proposed limiting the number of Uber vehicles on the road at any one time. Portland has banned the service.

Riders summon Uber drivers with a cellphone app. According to the company website, Uber is in 80 cities in 32 countries. Thirty-nine cities in North America provide the service, and Uber is on the West Coast in cities including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento.

Uber spokesman Andrew Noyes said Wednesday evening that he could not confirm that the service would be coming to Pierce County.

He did emphasize that Uber “is a technology company, not a transportation company. Like Expedia for airline tickets, Uber is a facilitator of that experience, but we do not provide the service.”

Tacoma City Councilman Joe Lonergan said Wednesday he wonders if there is enough demand in Tacoma to support more taxi-like companies. Lonergan is the chairman of the Government Performance and Finance Committee, which oversees taxi cab and business licensing.

“If we had an Uber system, that would annihilate our relatively small taxi service,” he said. “... The Uber system is a great system for a city that has high needs.”

Upon hearing the news that Uber plans to expand into Tacoma, City Councilman Marty Campbell said, “Excellent. Glad to hear it.”

“Currently Tacoma is under served with taxis,” Campbell said. “... We welcome them but I understand this may start a conversation of how do we honor the existing companies that we have.”

Campbell, also on the government performance committee, said he hasn’t followed what has happened in Seattle in detail, but he believes Tacoma can learn from those lessons “and address things in Tacoma in a way that works for Tacoma.”

Both Campbell and Lonergan said they had used Uber on trips to Washington, D.C., and were impressed with the service.

Belai Motuma, an owner and manager with Tacoma Yellow Cab, learned of Uber’s interest in the South Sound on Wednesday afternoon.

His reaction to the news was both angry and curious.

“They are no good for us,” he said. “They don’t have any license. How does the city see this? It’s not fair to the cab industry. They are not fair. They don’t have insurance. Those people don’t pass through regulations. They don’t do background checks on their drivers. If they come, they should have to go through all of the inspections.”

Motuma offered that Uber vehicles are not cabs, although they do what cabs do and should therefore be regulated as cabs are.

“I don’t like it,” he said. “If they want to come here, they have to go through what we have to go through. If you want to be a cab, let’s go through this together and compete.”

Spokesman Noyes answered by saying the company is licensed, it does carry insurance, vehicles are inspected and drivers are screened.

“Our partners are commercially insured transportation providers,” he said.

On the company’s ride-sharing platform, he said, “on top of the personal insurance coverage individuals have, Uber holds a commercial insurance policy for $1 million per incident. On top of that, we added underinsured and uninsured motorist coverage. On top of that, we also cover collision costs.”

The drivers are checked, he said. “Absolutely. We work hard to see that our drivers have gone through background checks. Drivers undergo independent screening.”

He said the checks are made through a national criminal background database.

On inspections, he said the company deals with “individual drivers who presumably have gone through a car inspection to be on the road. Fundamentally it’s important to note that Uber does conduct a vehicle inspection.”

On local laws, he said, “We abide by all of the local laws and jurisdictional requirements to operate a business in a given location.”

Concerning the ban against Uber in Portland, Noyes claimed the company faced “outdated local regulations designed to protect the taxi industry make our presence impossible.”

Noyes did not comment on current litigation against the company.

He pointed to a recent company statement concerning the controversy in Seattle, that said, in part, “It is extremely disappointing that the Seattle City Council Committee on Taxi, For-hire and Limousine Regulations has chosen to ignore the tens of thousands of their constituents who support uberX and, instead, decided it is a good policy to protect the taxi industry and effectively shut down uberX in Seattle as we know it. This decision will put hundreds of small businesses out of work and leave them without an opportunity to earn a living.”

Noyes did not say when the company might announce a move into Pierce County.

“I wish I could say more,” he said. “I would love to talk to you at the moment, but I can’t.”

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