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Uber Expands To Montpelier, Raising Questions Around Taxi Ordinances

Michael Krinke
The ride-sharing company Uber started operating in Montpelier Thursday. The announcement of Uber's arrival was made at a city council meeting Wednesday night.

Starting Thursday afternoon people in Montpelier will be able to use the ride-sharing service Uber to request rides. 

When Uber began operating in Burlington in 2014, the city deemed the company in violation of the Burlington taxi ordinance. Now, Uber's operation in Montpelier may be facing similar questions.

Mayor John Hollar announced Uber's arrival on Wednesday night at the Montpelier city council meeting.

City Clerk John Odum was surprised by the announcement.

"I knew they were looking to expand and there was a sense they were going to come eventually," Odum says. "As far as when did I know they were specifically coming to Montpelier today? I learned that for the first time last night at the council meeting."

Cathy Zhou, the General Manager of Uber Vermont, said Uber does connect with community leaders before offering service in an area to make sure it makes a positive impact in the community. 

She said expanding its service is a key part of the company's mission.

"Montpelier is the capital of Vermont," Zhou says. "We want to make sure that more and more residents in Vermont and also visitors to Vermont are able to access safe, reliable, affordable transportation options."

But based on other cities experiences with Uber, Odum said Montpelier would have to revise its taxi ordinance.

"Uber's business model doesn't fit into that standard licensing regime," Odum says. "So they are running a taxi service inconsistent with our licensing structure."

Odum says he'll move quickly and talk with other cities about their experience with Uber and to Montpelier's police chief and city manager. The goal would be to have answers to present to the city council at its next meeting.

"If Uber is doing business in Montpelier this evening, they will be doing so without a license." — City Clerk John Odum

Until then, what's will happen with Uber's operation in Montpelier?

"If Uber is doing business in Montpelier this evening, they will be doing so without a license," Odum said.

He said this issue highlights the need for the city council to look at firming up the enforcement mechanism of the ordinance.

Zhou wouldn't speculate on what Uber would do if Montpelier found it in violation of city ordinances.  

Liam is Vermont Public’s public safety reporter, focusing on law enforcement, courts and the prison system.
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