New law regulates Uber



BAR HARBOR — Police here will not be citing drivers with the Uber ride-sharing service for not being licensed under the town’s taxi ordinance this year, Police Chief Jim Willis said Monday.

The state Legislature passed a bill June 30 to address state and local law and insurance issues with “transportation network companies,” like Uber. LD 1379, the “Transportation Network Company Insurance Act,” became law under an emergency provision, because the company is currently operating in the state and was not yet subject to regulation.

Uber, which connects passengers with anyone registered on their mobile app willing to provide a ride for hire in a personal vehicle, began operations here Memorial Day weekend. Some local taxi companies reported the activity to the police, concerned that the cars used for rides were not inspected and licensed per the town’s ordinance.

“It’s too soon to tell what the impact will be on local taxi companies,” Claire Bingham, owner of At Your Service Taxi, said. Her company has operated year-round here for 16 years. “If they do hurt the summer business, then Bar Harbor and the island will lose its winter service. During the winter, we operate in the red, and we make it up in the summer. Uber comes in Friday and Saturday nights. They don’t come in during the slow times. That’s the kind of service people can look forward to in the future.”

She’s disappointed that the Legislature took direction from Uber and large insurance companies in passing the bill, she said. “They tout family business in the state, but when it comes down to it, they crush family business in favor of big corporations. I don’t mind a fair fight, but I feel the state really set us up.”

So far, she said, Uber rates here have been more expensive than taxi fares, despite the taxi companies’ higher overhead.

The bill’s language was very similar to legislation introduced in many other states this year. It’s based on a national deal struck between Uber and insurance companies, Dan Bernier, a lobbyist for the Maine Insurance Agents’ Association, said.

A section of the new law prohibits towns from imposing taxes or fees or from requiring licenses for drivers providing prearranged rides with a transportation network company. Instead, Uber is set to pay an annual fee of $10,000 to the Secretary of State’s office for one permit to cover all operations in Maine.

“As long as they meet the minimum criteria in the law, they can operate,” Town Manager Cornell Knight said. “It looks like as of this year, we’ll not be doing anything. We’ll probably have to look at the ordinance before next year.”

License fees for traditional taxis represent about $3,000 in annual revenue for the town, Finance Director Stan Harmon said. The fee for taxis or pedicabs (1-14 passengers) is $65 per vehicle. Limos with 15 or more passengers and local excursion buses pay $119 per vehicle.

Another provision of the new law requires Uber to disclose to drivers that their personal auto insurance policy may not cover them while they’re providing prearranged rides using the service. Providing rides also may have an impact on any auto loans or liens they have.

“People choosing to do these rides are aware that, if they get in an accident, they’re not going to have any insurance coverage,” Bernier said. “Personal lines policies are not designed for making money off of your vehicle. The Bureau of Insurance here has been very proactive in warning people about this. A couple of other states have come out with hybrid personal lines” intended to provide coverage for Uber drivers, he said, but they are not yet available in Maine.

“I think you’re going to see the Legislature visit this issue several times over the next few years,” Bernier said.

 

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

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