Smart phone app 'Uber' looks to add transportation option in Birmingham

Birmingham may soon have a new transportation option. Uber, a technology company, has a smart phone application to connect drivers to riders.The company is posting jobs for drivers in Birmingham for a service called UberX.Many Uber services use commercial vehicles similar to taxi cabs.UberX is a little different. People can sign up to be drivers and use their personal cars to drive riders around town. "We're providing more consumer choice," said Taylor Bennett, a spokesperson for Uber. "We're providing rides at cheaper cost. And so riders and consumers are benefiting as well as the economic opportunity for drivers."UberX is touted for being much cheaper than taxis in other cities. Drivers use their own cars to pick up passengers, who pay through the app with a credit card.Then, Uber pays drivers 80 percent of the fare and keeps the other 20 percent. "That covers operational costs," explained Bennett. "It covers the marketing. Primarily, the biggest chunk of that in terms of value is the lead generation. Driver partners use the platform. We connect them with riders.""I don't have a problem with the concept," said Birmingham city Councilwoman Kim Rafferty. "I have a problem with the driver and the vehicles being safe and secure for the general public."Rafferty is Chair of the Transportation and Communications Committee. She says the company began advertising before checking with the city to see what the regulations are. "(There's) a permitting process for the drivers and there's a permitting process for the cars. And that includes inspections. That includes having a certain amount of insurance, a clean driving record, those kinds of things."Uber says it has a corporate insurance policy for its drivers while they use the app. It also says it does its own background checks on drivers dating back seven years. Rafferty still has concerns, "They're not a licensing entity. They're a business. And so as we have a regulated industry for paid transportation. We have the state regulations. We have the local regulations. You have to be compliant with us."Rafferty says the city is rewriting its code to try to work with Uber, should the company want to offer local services using commercial vehicles.But for drivers looking at current ads for UberX, she warns, "Right now, the most definitive thing we're putting in is if we catch you operating a web based transportation service out of your vehicle in the city of Birmingham, your vehicle will be towed."UberX is up and running in cities like Atlanta, Charlotte and Memphis.As for the taxi company's perspective, Ellis Houston, president of Yellow Cab, is adamantly opposed to the idea of UberX coming. He doesn't think it's safe ad he also believes it's nothing new, pointing out that his company already has a smart phone app.