Uber Battle Spreads To Elizabeth

Baraka, Bollwage, and Booker

Baraka (left), Bollwage, and Booker awaiting President Obama’s arrival at Newark Airport in November 2015.

Just last week Newark Mayor Ras Baraka struck a deal with ridesharing company Uber when the company agreed to pay $10 million over a 10 year period in order to allow their drivers continued operation at Newark Airport and other transit hubs in the Brick City. However, it seems that the company’s Newark Airport woes aren’t done with.

On April 12, an ordinance was introduced at an Elizabeth council meeting that would set regulations for Uber drivers operating within city limits. Among those regulations is a ban on picking up and dropping off passengers at city train stations or Newark Liberty Airport’s Terminal A, situated in Elizabeth.

According to a statement from Uber spokesman Craig Ewer, the regulations would limit economic opportunity for Elizabeth drivers.

“Elizabeth’s ordinance is clearly designed to protect the taxi industry by keeping residents who desperately need economic opportunities from getting them and by limiting transportation options in the City’s busiest areas,” Ewer said.

The incident is reminiscent of what happened in Newark with the company and city officials battling over economic issues until the final resolution was made. In the Newark instance, the NAACP got involved and encouraged the city to help drivers keep their source of income in Newark.

In Elizabeth, the ordinance also proposes regulations that include the requirement of three references from people “who live in the city who have known the application for a period of one year and who will vouch for the sobriety, honest and general good character of the applicant”; “a representation that the applicant is able to read and write the English language”, police investigation of ridesharing applicants, mandated printed receipts and the ban on Terminal A pickups/drop-offs.

The New Jersey Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is opposed to the ordinance, mainly on the grounds that drivers would be required to have English-language skills in order to operate ridesharing vehicles in Elizabeth. By requiring references who have known applicants for over a year the ordinance would also limit opportunity for those who are new to the country.

On Thursday, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Chairman Carlos Medina issued a letter to Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage protesting the ordinance. In addition to expressing economic concerns, the letter went on to call the English language provision “discriminatory.”

The letter read: “According to the most recent census data, nearly one in five New Jerseyans identify as Hispanic, and within the New York metropolitan area there are more than 3.5 million Spanish speakers. This diversity is one of the reasons why North Jersey remains one of the best places to live and work in the country. Indeed, much of our strength as a nation can be attributed to America’s long history of multiculturalism. It would be shameful for Elizabeth to limit the opportunities afforded to Hispanic New Jersey residents.

Imposing an English language requirement would have an immediate and discriminatory impact on non-English speakers seeking to earn income through TNC applications, and the City of Elizabeth has offered no rationale whatsoever for this mandate. Regardless of whether such a rationale actually exists, the rule itself raises several freedom of speech and equal protection issues. People in the United States should be free to communicate in the manner they choose and not be barred from work opportunities because of who they are or where they come from.”

Elizabeth is likely angling to strike a similar deal to the one made in Newark, something that is evidenced by using the airport as leverage. If a deal does go through, it is likely that Uber’s prediction of using the Newark deal as a “statewide model” will be met and that similar agreements between the company and New Jersey municipalities will continue to be made.

Uber Battle Spreads To Elizabeth