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Selectboard tables decision on Uber/Lyft regs

Board members question wisdom of forcing drivers to register with multiple towns

BRATTLEBORO—As the Selectboard considers a change to the rides-for-hire ordinance, the issue has gotten more complicated.

The agenda for the Sept. 4 regular Selectboard meeting had the Board conducting a second reading of the proposed ordinance change.

The change would require Brattleboro-based drivers using app-based transportation services — like Uber and Lyft — to register themselves and their vehicles with the town and pay the same fees taxi-cab companies do for their drivers and cars.

The reason for this ordinance change, according to some Selectboard members, is to “level the playing field” between Uber and Lyft drivers and taxi-cab companies.

Some Board members expressed concern that leaving app-based ride-sharing services unregulated could jeopardize public safety: Are the drivers and their cars safe and insured?

Instead of voting to adopt the changes to the ordinance after the second reading, which it is empowered to do, the Board tabled the decision until the Sept. 18 regular meeting. This decision came at the encouragement of Town Manager Peter B. Elwell.

During the public comment period of the second reading, Terri Hendricks of the Vernon Transportation Service had questions about the proposed ordinance, including its scope.

Hendricks explained that her company’s drivers pick up passengers in Brattleboro and provide them other transportation and delivery services, but the business is domiciled in Vernon and follows that town’s regulations. She said her business is also registered with the state as a transportation service.

She said making VTS pay both Vernon’s and Brattleboro’s registration fees is “a double whack.” She noted many of her customers are not high-wage earners, and extra business expenses could present a hardship.

“If we have to jack up the rates on ’em so much that it doesn’t make sense to [do business], then I’d just rather not serve them,” Hendricks said. “I think that would be sad for your community.”

Selectboard member Brandie Starr questioned the wisdom of making VTS register twice, especially if another municipality, or the state, has already satisfied public safety concerns.

Board member Shanta Lee Gander agreed, and asked if a ride-for-hire company or driver registered elsewhere, but operating in Brattleboro, could submit registration and insurance documents to the town.

Elwell told Selectboard members, “If you want a definitive answer to that question, I’d urge you to defer this for two weeks so we can look into [it].”

By having municipal staff research other towns’ requirements for passenger transportation services, the board “can make an informed decision,” Elwell said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #476 (Wednesday, September 12, 2018). This story appeared on page A1.

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