Is Uber coming to Hoover?

Published 1:01 pm Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Hoover City Council is considering an ordinance amending the municipal code to allow companies such as Uber to operate in the city. (File)

The Hoover City Council is considering an ordinance amending the municipal code to allow companies such as Uber to operate in the city. (File)

By MOLLY DAVIDSON / Staff Writer

HOOVER—Uber may be coming to Hoover in the very near future. The Hoover City Council is considering amending the municipal code to allow for transportation companies such as Uber to operate in the city.

Uber and similar companies, such as Lyft and Sidecar, are a fairly new concept utilizing the rise of the smartphone to connect riders and drivers through an app. Additionally, drivers act as “independent contractors,” according to the Uber website, often creating their own schedules and using their own vehicles to transport passengers.

“We created a new ordinance that covers (Transportation Network Companies)… Uber is probably the most popular one,” Hoover City Councilman John Lyda said. “Most cities didn’t have ordinances (covering TNCs) prior to this.”

The proposed ordinance adds an article governing TNCs to chapter nine of the municipal code. TNCs are defined as “a corporation, partnership, sole proprietorship, or other entity that only uses a digital network to connect TNC riders to TNC drivers who provide TNC services.” The ordinance clarifies that TNC vehicles are not the same as taxicabs.

The proposed new article covers TNC licensing, driver qualifications and background checks, required insurance coverage and vehicle safety inspections, among other details.

TNCs will fill a transportation gap in Hoover and offer a highly demanded service, Lyda said.

“I have heard from countless individuals… that this is a high-demand service,” Lyda said. “By and large it’s going to fill a gap that cab companies cannot meet.”

Hoover often experiences a transportation shortage during large events, such as the SEC baseball tournament and SEC media days, Lyda explained.

“Cab companies can’t increase their inventory to meet that demand,” Lyda said.

The addition of TNCs could also reduce the city’s number of DUI arrests, Hoover City Council President Jack Wright said during a Jan. 4 City Council meeting.

“Since Uber was brought to Baton Rouge (La.), the DUI rate has gone down 60 percent,” Wright said, recalling a conversation with a friend from Baton Rouge. “I think that would be a real positive thing (for Hoover).”

Safety concerns have arisen as TNCs have become more popular throughout the country and the world, especially regarding background checks for drivers.

In a widely publicized case, California prosecutors criticized Uber’s driver background checks and filed complaints against the company, citing registered sex offenders, a convicted murderer and others with felony convictions who all passed the company’s screening and became drivers.

The proposed addition to the Hoover Municipal Code includes safety precautions to protect citizens.

According to the ordinance, TNC drivers must undergo a background check accredited by the National Association of Professional Background Screeners. At a minimum, background checks must inspect a “multi-state/multi-jurisdictional criminal records locator or similar commercial nationwide database search with validation,” the National Sex Offender Public Website and driving history.

Individuals with a conviction in the past seven years for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, a sexual offense, fraud, use of a motor vehicle to commit a felony, a crime involving property damage and/or theft or any felony offense will be prohibited from becoming a TNC driver.

Individuals on the National Sex Offender Public Website will also be barred from becoming a TNC driver in Hoover.

Additionally, the city of Hoover will have the opportunity to audit TNC background checks each year, Lyda said. The Hoover Police Department will also be able to inspect a sample of five TNC drivers’ documents each year.

Lyda said these safety measures are “unique” to the city of Hoover to add an extra layer of protection for citizens.

The Hoover City Council heard the first reading of the proposed amendments to the city’s municipal code during a Jan. 4 meeting. The second reading and a vote for adoption will be held during the council’s Jan. 19 meeting.