Christopher David of Free UBER – Graphic Courtesy Coin Telegraph
Free UBER‘s Christopher David is making headlines again for his latest announcement where he and several other drivers are offering free rides to people on New Year’s Eve in Portsmouth, NH. The drivers are accepting tips, and Portsmouth police chief Frank Warchol said in an interview with the Portsmouth Herald that accepting donations would still place them under government control and means they’d be fined if caught operating without government permission slips.
Chris’ announcement has really put the government gang in a ridiculous spot that shows their true nature. Prior to this, the controversy with UBER in Portsmouth has been that UBER’s background check requirements aren’t as stringent as Portsmouth’s ordinances demand. There’s been endless debate and discussion in city council meetings about who should be allowed to drive other consenting adults from place to place, with the town government agents acting concerned about “protecting” the passengers from potentially criminal drivers. However, no one in the Portsmouth government would care if a felon takes someone from point A to point B for free, but if they accept a dollar for their effort, then the regulations apply! What’s this scheme of theirs really about? Perhaps money, control, and protecting the old cab companies from competition?
Frank Warchol, Chief of Portsmouth Police – Photo Courtesy SeacoastOnline
The Portsmouth gang is threatening the charity drivers with fines of $500 to $1,000 if they are caught accepting money for rides. How police will catch them is another question entirely. With UBER, police could use the UBER app to monitor the locations of the UBER cars (whether they have, I don’t know). However, UBER is not involved at all with the New Year’s Eve charity, so police would have to run a sting operation by scheduling a ride, then pouncing on the driver when he or she accepts a tip from the undercover cop.
Chris says that his reading of the Portsmouth gang’s “ordinances” and the state gang’s “statutes” lead him to believe there are virtually no restrictions on limousines. The Portsmouth transportation ordinance defines limousine services as those which, “provide designated luxury or specialty vehicles by prior appointment for discrete functions or transportation to locations outside the City or the reverse”. Chris says the vehicles on New Years Eve will be specialty because they will have fun games in the passenger seats.
Will anything go down on New Year’s Eve between city cops and the charity drivers? Stay tuned here to Free Keene for the latest, and if you’re looking for a ride on New Year’s Eve in Portsmouth, sign up for yours here at Chris’ new project, Arcade City!
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.
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.
FOX 25 Boston’s Kathryn Burcham filed this excellent report on the continuing assault on peaceful Seacoast UBER driver Stephanie Franz, the 63-year-old grandmother who has now been ticketed several times for driving people places without a government permission slip.
She, despite facing $3,500 in fines from the city for her peaceful civil disobedience, is remaining steadfast, and is demanding her trial. Kudos to UBER for providing Stephanie with legal representation, gratis. Here’s the FOX report, which is very positive and fair towards her:
In the continuing saga of Portsmouth v Uber, the Portsmouth City Council was slated to do a First Reading of a proposed ordinance that was requested by Uber, that would make it easier for Uber to operate in the city. The Council hearing (from opening until the vote on the Uber ordinance) can be seen here, here, here & here. The City Council will meet on December 21 for Second Reading, and a possible Third Reading and vote on the proposal.
Free Uber founder Christopher David was kind enough to speak to me, about some of the history of the saga, before the meeting.
And after the meeting, he had this to say: (more…)