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Uber Lobbyists Requesting Meetings With Burlington Councilors

Uber has hired Montpelier-based lobbying firm MMRto lobby elected officials in Burlington as the city works to develop new taxi regulations that take business models like Uber’s into consideration, according to several city councilors.

Ward 2 Progressive City Councilor Max Tracy said a lobbyist recently contacted him to ask for a meeting “to discuss, I think the upcoming consideration of a more permanent agreement to replace the interim agreement” that the council is currently considering.

“They asked to meet and I backed out,” he said. “I said, ‘I don’t want to meet with you guys.’”

Tracy said it’s the first time in his three years on the city council that a hired lobbyist has approached him.

“Of course you have people wanting to engage you around their interests,” he said, “but not in the form of a corporation hiring a firm to lobby councilors.”

Tracy’s fellow councilor, Ward 8 Independent Adam Roof, did meet with one of lobbyists.

“They were contacted by Uber to do some lobbying on the state level recently,” Roof said in an interview. “And I guess they just retained them to do some work up here in Burlington.”

According to filings with the Secretary of State's office, Uber hired MMR sometime before April 13, but had not yet paid the firm for any work.

Roof said he wasn’t sure exactly what the lobbyists’ objective was based on his meeting at a Burlington café this week.

“I was a little unsure as to what it is they were going to be looking for,” he said. “What it turned out to be was essentially they just wanted to hear from me what my thoughts were, what my concerns were, what my ideas were. They didn’t ask a lot from me. They didn’t ask anything of me at all really.”

Roof said the lobbyists took notes during the conversation.

“The agreement was that they were to leave with these questions, go back to Uber, and essentially bring back answers to me before our meeting on the 17th – the joint meeting with the license committee and ordinance committee," he said. "My guess is just so that they have an idea of the types of questions that will be asked at that committee and to be prepared to answer them, which I think is just fine. I have no problem with that.”

Many of the issues Roof said he outlined for the lobbyists are common in discussions about Uber: safety concerns, the company’s business model, how that business model relates to potential regulation from the city and the way Uber uses background checks.

The company claims to have a comprehensive screening process for drivers that ensures passenger safety.

Roof said nothing the lobbyists did made him uncomfortable, though he said one condition of the meeting (set by Roof) was that it take place in a public space.

Both Roof and Tracy are on the council’s license committee, which is set to hold a joint meeting later this month with the ordinance committee (which Tracy also sits on) to discuss an interim operating agreement between the city and Uber, whose drivers are operating in apparent violation of a city ordinance.

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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