Portsmouth City Council Kills Uber Amendments, Continues Turf War

Monday night the Portsmouth city council killed all three amendments requested by Uber that would have allowed all Uber drivers to operate legally in Portsmouth.

At the public hearing before the vote, Uber supporters outnumbered opponents about two to one. One taxi loyalist accused Uber drivers of “laughing at” the police because he saw an Uber driver park often right next to a police car downtown. Except “Uber Grandma” Stephanie Franz then stepped to the podium to say that driver was her. Why park there? She said:
“I do that because I fear the taxi cab drivers. My car’s been blocked in. I’ve had stuff thrown at it. They take pictures of my car. They take pictures of me. They yell at me. They’ve done a lot of different things.”
Additional reports of taxi drivers harassing Uber drivers and customers all fell on deaf ears. Ordinance architect Asst. Mayor Jim Splaine urged everyone to vote down all three amendments requested by Uber, which they did.
 Splaine even jumped into the Free Uber Facebook page comments to defend the ordinance, erroneously claiming: “We’ve created a free market” by forcing Uber drivers to register with the city.
Portsmouth resident Jason Walls blasted the council’s actions in an op-ed published today in the Portsmouth Herald:

What I saw [Monday] was a group of people listen to a vast majority of interested parties in favor of abolishing the ordinance or, at the very least, adding the amendments requested by Uber to allow us to move on in the short term, and then, subsequently, completely ignore those people and pass the buck onto the next council. In the meantime, Taxi drivers will continue to harass Uber passengers, police will continue to waste time policing the ordinance, and all of this will happen during the holiday season when a surge of ride-sharing drivers is needed most.

This is dangerous and despicable. It’s disgusting to me as a resident and taxpayer. The council members, save for Thorsen and Dwyer, should be ashamed. The headlines should read “Council votes to delay safer Portsmouth” or “Council votes to continue increased drunk driving risks.” You had an opportunity to end this, or at least refrain from enforcement, until this time when it is needed most is over, and you didn’t – even those with nothing to lose on their way out. Let the record show.

Councilor Thorsen, who together with Councilor Dwyer, was one of the only voices of reason during the debate, had the best quote of the night, admitting that the council “didn’t really even know what we’re talking about”:

“I have a little bit of concern over this whole process just because, for example in our last meeting, I went away scratching my head because I was told that our process is better than Uber’s process, for example background checks. And at the same time, we were told we don’t know what Uber’s background check is. Now either one.. you can’t say both. And yet we said both right up here on the council, which told me we didn’t really even know what we’re talking about. And that concerns me in this whole process.

Now we had some feedback from the police department, and that’s good. But again, I don’t think that in trying to get down to the 15 versus 7 [years for the background checks] — I don’t agree with 15, I think we should be at 7 because that’s what most are.

I wanted to be able to address that. I’m going to have to leave it to the next council. We have several young people up on the next council. I think they’re going to have a different opinion than this council. I hope that they do and I hope that they get Uber into Portsmouth as soon as they possibly can.”

The turf war on the streets of Portsmouth continues. Eyes now turn to the new city council and their first meeting January 11th.


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