Just sent out this press release:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
A group of ten Uber drivers will be offering free or donation-based rides in Portsmouth during New Years Eve.
On a website created to promote the offer, they identify as “just some of your local Uber drivers tired of being chased around Portsmouth by cops and crazy taxi drivers.”
By not charging for service and by scheduling rides in advance the drivers are able to operate legally in Portsmouth because their actions will not be regulated under the transportation ordinance. The group has indicated plans to continue operating similarly in January.
The group includes multiple Uber drivers who have continued driving in Portsmouth in defiance of the new transportation ordinance, under which all Uber drivers are driving illegally except for two drivers who have individually purchased their own commercial insurance policies.
The group also includes Free Uber founder Christopher David who was arrested by Portsmouth PD in November on felony wiretapping charges for posting a YouTube video of a Portsmouth bouncer & taxi driver calling the police on him while picking up an Uber customer outside Daniel Street Tavern.
The website continues, “We tried persuading the city council to allow us to operate freely in Portsmouth. No such luck. They killed all three amendments to the transportation law requested by Uber. Back to square one! We’ll try again with the new council, but in the meantime we’re going to try something a little different.”
This Monday, the group started taking ride requests on a dedicated reservation website. Interested riders will be manually matched with a driver.
In addition to the council killing Uber’s three requested amendments, the group’s action is motivated partly by Portsmouth’s largest taxi company threatening to pull their cabs out from Portsmouth to Dover on New Years Eve, exactly as one taxi owner admitted in a letter to the transportation commission they did in Thanksgiving Eve, intending to send a message to the city council.
Uber drivers have faced continued harassment from taxi drivers since the ordinance went into effect in September. At Monday’s meeting, “Uber Grandma” Stephanie Franz, who has accumulated $3,500 worth of fines under the new ordinance, said to the council: “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.”
“It is unfortunate that the city council sided with the taxi proponents who have been actively harassing Uber drivers,” said Free Uber founder Christopher David. “They even intentionally inconvenienced Portsmouth residents and guests by coordinating a withdrawal of their taxis to Dover on busy Thanksgiving Eve. Meanwhile Uber drivers are just trying to fill a need in Portsmouth and face daily harassment. The new city council should empower them to operate freely and in peace. Portsmouth residents and guests deserve to make up their own minds which transportation service to use, without outside interference.”
Regardless of the city council’s actions, the Portsmouth transportation ordinance will likely expire in mid-to-late 2016.
In July, Governor Hassan signed a bill forming a bipartisan committee to consider regulating ride-sharing statewide. On December 7th, committee members introduced legislative services request 2016-2957. According to the bill’s primary sponsor and a draft of the house bill’s text, the bill will preempt all local governments. If it passes, Portsmouth’s transportation ordinance will become void two months after the bill is signed.
In the meantime, a group of Uber drivers will continue providing service to those who want it, regardless of the harassment and legal obstacles they face.