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City: Burlington's Uber Drivers Are Breaking The Law

Burlington has declared that Uber and its drivers are subject to the city's regulation. But those who have downloaded Uber's app, shown here, may be able to continue using it, as the city says it hopes to reach an interim agreement with the company.

Burlington drivers who recently started making money with Uber are in violation of city taxi regulations, according to a new memo from City Attorney Eileen Blackwood.

“After carefully reviewing our Vehicle for Hire Ordinance, our office has concluded that Uber and its drivers are operating vehicles for hire and therefore are subject to its regulation,” Blackwood wrote in a letter to Uber.

The regulation calls for vehicles for hire to have licenses from the city in order to operate, a system that allows the city to make sure these rides are safe for residents. While Uber claims to have a state-of-the-art background check system to protect riders’ safety, Blackwood’s memo says that “[n]either Uber nor the individual drivers have sought licenses from the city, and therefore, as the ordinance is currently written, Uber and its drivers are operating vehicles for hire without a license in violation of the law.”

That offense could lead the city to impound drivers’ vehicles and issue fines of up to $300.

But the letter doesn’t seek to drive Uber out of town. Blackwood’s memo says that Mayor Miro Weinberger is “willing to work with Uber to try to reach an interim operating agreement, as Uber has done with other communities, that addresses both of our needs.”

Uber spokeswoman Kaitlin Durkosh issued an email statement on behalf of the company, saying that the company is open to working with the city on an agreement.

"Since our launch in Burlington, riders and drivers have embraced the added choice and economic opportunity with open arms," she said. "We look forward to continuing productive conversations with local officials, working together on a temporary agreement, and moving towards a permanent solution for ridesharing in Burlington."

Durkosh didn't say whether or not the company will continue operations until an agreement is reached.

Blackwood's letter says Weinberger is also open to taking a new look at the city’s vehicle for hire ordinance to see if there is a way to revise it so that Uber can operate and the city’s obligation to protect riders is met.

“However,” Blackwood wrote, “until such an agreement is reached, Uber and its drivers are operating in violation of the City’s ordinances.”

Updated 1:25 p.m. This post now includes a comment from Uber.

Taylor was VPR's digital reporter from 2013 until 2017. After growing up in Vermont, he graduated with at BA in Journalism from Northeastern University in 2013.
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