HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The ride-booking company Uber is ramping up its recruitment of drivers in Connecticut, even though legislation requiring them to abide by a new regulatory system failed to clear the General Assembly in the final hours of the regular legislative session.
Last week, Uber announced a new urban partnership, called UberUP, with the NAACP, The WorkPlace and Workforce Alliance. The goal is to add 1,500 drivers in Connecticut cities, starting with New Haven before moving onto others over the next year. Uber plans to host skills-building courses and meetings with experienced drivers.
According to the company’s blog, Uber has signed up about 4,000 “driver/partners” in Connecticut since beginning operations in the state about a year ago. The firm ultimately expects to add an additional 5,000 by end of 2015. Uber claimed in April it could provide rides to 82 percent of Connecticut residents.
Matt Powers, general manager for Uber Connecticut, said many of the safety measures in the bill, which overwhelmingly cleared the House of Representatives but died due to inaction in the Senate, are being followed by the company. For example, he said Uber conducts background checks on its drivers, which are considered independent contractors. Uber also provides customers with a photograph of their driver and an ability to track them as they’re approaching. It also requires drivers to have insurance in place.
“It really just codified some of the things that Uber is already doing in the state of Connecticut,” Powers said of the legislation, which is expected to be resurrected in next year’s regular legislative session. “We believe that Uber is the safest transportation out there for individuals.”
But Rep. Antonio “Tony” Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, co-chairman of the legislature’s Transportation Committee, said he and other lawmakers would have preferred those rules were in state law by now.
“That was our main concern: that if nothing did get passed, they’d go out and keep on doing business the way they are,” he said. “And not to say the way they’re doing business is bad, but by putting these regulations in place, it makes people feel safe.”
Guerrera estimates Uber on its own is already doing much of what is in the bill. However, there are some gaps.
For example, he said the bill would have required so-called “transportation network companies” to register with the Connecticut Department of Transportation. Drivers would have to display signs on their vehicles indicating they are Uber drivers while transporting passengers and the drivers’ vehicles would have to be subjected to periodic inspections. Guerrera said he also believes the type of background checks required in the bill would have been more expansive than what Uber is now conducting.
“There was some criteria that we had put in (the bill) that they weren’t doing,” he said. “I would say, 90 percent of it, they were already doing it.”
Connecticut’s Department of Transportation worked on the bill with lawmakers. However, since the legislation didn’t pass, the agency is not currently regulating Uber or any similar companies that might be operating in the state.
“As a regulatory agency, we receive our direction from the legislature,” said Kevin Nursick, the DOT’s spokesman. “So until such time, and if … legislation is passed specifying DOT’s regulatory role over companies like Uber, we don’t have any involvement.”
Guerrera said he expects the issue will be resurrected next year, when lawmakers return for the regular legislative session.
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