By Ariana Assaf, Daily Staff Reporter
Published May 2, 2014
Mobile app Uber, which connects people looking for rides to drivers in the area willing to give them, launched in Ann Arbor recently to both enthusiasm and legal concerns.
Mike White, general manager of Uber in Ann Arbor, said the company has seen potential in the city for a long time, and that since the transition downloads and uses of the app have exceeded expectations.
The company is offering a promotion through May 4 that allows riders 10 free rides of an up to $25 value.
“When we go in to a new market we’re looking to give people a chance to experience what Uber is, and we’ve got a lot of confidence that when somebody has taken a ride, they’re going to be a repeat user,” White said.
He added that Uber had been consistently receiving feedback from Ann Arbor residents and students hoping the app would come to them, as well as from drivers in the area who wanted the opportunity to stay closer to home, since the app launched in Detroit.
“When we launched in Detroit there was a lot of people from Ann Arbor saying right off the bat ‘you have to come here too,’ ” White said.
However, along with the app’s popularity, there have also been concerns raised, making Uber’s future in the city unclear.
In an interview Thursday with The Michigan Daily, Ann Arbor city councilmember Stephen Kunselman (D–Ward 3) voiced concerns regarding user safety, and said he plans to advocate for the city’s attorney’s office to send out a cease-and-desist order at the city council meeting on Monday.
He said Uber’s statements contradict with what they’re actually doing — Uber does not call itself a transportation company, but aims to provide safe and reliable transportation for their customers.
“You have a company that is trying to skirt the law and pretend that it doesn’t apply to them because they come up with excuses,” Kunselman said.
Although the service’s branch in Detroit was issued a cease-and-desist order in February, White said that he does not anticipate legal issues in Ann Arbor.
“We’ve felt welcome by residents and students with open arms,” he said. “I think the issue is about what Uber is — we’re not a transportation company, we’re a technology company.”
Uber’s legality in Detroit is still unclear. Though the cease-and-desist order was issued, the company has continued to operate in the area. However, state and Detroit police announced this winter that that they now have the authority to ticket Uber drivers if they aren’t properly registered as transportation providers, citing safety concerns.
Kunselman echoed similar concerns in terms of how safety is being handled. By aiding drivers who are not licensed under Michigan’s Limousine Act, Uber is a party to an illegal activity, he said, citing claims that the driver background checks Uber claims to vet are not being done at the necessary level and that drivers aren’t covered by insurance that covers vehicles for hire.
Uber drivers would be compliant with Kunselman and Detroit’s interpretation of state law if they abided by the Limousine Act or local municipalities taxicab ordinance, but Kunselman said doing so would expose Uber to fees that would decrease its ability to be competitive in the market.
“Their overhead would be much higher, and they would have to charge rates that are pretty much equal to what the going rate is in town,” Kunselman said.
He added that while Uber’s clients may appreciate cheap service, leading to high popularity, it would only take one major accident for Uber’s popularity to decrease substantially, making safety concerns a pressing issue.