Local News

Uber drivers welcome Raleigh taxi strike, not regulation

Posted December 31, 2014 4:40 p.m. EST
Updated December 31, 2014 6:22 p.m. EST

— Hundreds of Raleigh taxi drivers say they are prepared to walk off the job at 11 p.m. Wednesday, shortly before calls for service are expected to spike as people search for rides home after ringing in the new year.

The strike is a protest over what cabbies see as unfair competition from ride-sharing services, such as Uber and Lyft, which don't have to meet the same licensing, registration and insurance requirements and usually charge lower rates.

"I want them to go on strike so I can make good money," said Ukariwo Eke, who drove a cab for 15 years before switching to Uber.

Eke said it's clear to him why more customers are choosing Uber, citing the company's efficiency, on-time service, friendly drivers and clean cars.

"After I cross over to New Year 2015, I'll come right back out and work until 3 a.m.," he said.

Uber warned people online that the pricing system it uses to help balance supply and demand would likely lead to price spikes between 12:30 and 2:30 a.m.

"For the most affordable rides, request right when the ball drops at midnight, or wait until later for prices to return to normal," the company said, adding that riders can always check the estimated fare when booking over their smartphone.

Raleigh officials said they cannot regulate the services, saying any regulations would have to come from the state. The General Assembly is expected to look at the issue after lawmakers reconvene in late January.

Raleigh-Durham International Airport, which has cited dozens of Uber and Lyft drivers as illegal taxis, has sought guidance from the state Attorney General's Office to determine if ride-sharing services qualify as "for hire" drivers.

"Communities across the country have been struggling with this and finding a way to work with these companies," RDU spokeswoman Mindy Hamlin said.

Twenty-five drivers for ride-sharing services have complied with RDU's insistence to obtain "for hire" license plates, which also necessitate more insurance coverage, and pay a $125 fee so they can work at the airport.

"We have a program in place, (and) they are adhering to that program. We are working with them very well," Hamlin said.

Uber spokesman Taylor Bennett called RDU's regulations "a very burdensome process," saying the company wants to work with airport officials on a "better permitting process."

"Our hope is to work together to come up with a solution that embraces ride-sharing at the airport," Bennett said, adding that other U.S. airports don't have such specific guidelines for Uber and similar services.