Newark Looks to Shake Down Uber Drivers For 'Fair Share' in Fees

Fee structures would be higher than for taxi drivers.


R. Heyward

Uber has responded to efforts by the city government of Newark, N.J., to impose fees and service charges on its drivers exceeding those paid by taxi drivers, by warning it would exit the city if the measure passed.

Cab drivers in Newark pay $300 a year for a license for their vehicle, plus $50 for their hack license, according to NJ.com. They are also required to have $35,000 worth of insurance coverage. The new regulations being proposed by Newark for Uber would require its drivers to pay a $500 fee to operate in the city, and additional $1,000 for a license to operate at the Newark airport and Newark Penn Station. Cab drivers do not have to pay extra to pick up or drop off fares at those transit centers.

Newark's mayor, Ras Baraka, rejected Uber's complaints about the onerous regulations being imposed on its drivers, by relying on anti-Wall Street rhetoric. "The company is not fighting for its drivers," Baraka said in a statement. "UBER cares only about preserving its inflated valuation by Wall Street." The mayor called Uber "a cash rich company that can afford to pay its fair share of taxes and fees."

It's unclear who Baraka and supporters of the new Uber regulations claim their measures are intended on behalf of, but it's certainly not Newark residents, neither those who generate income for themselves as drivers in a city whose political leadership is consistently complaining about a lack of jobs, nor those residents for whom the introduction of Uber has meant vastly lower fares.

I've lived most of my life in Newark, and continue to have friends and family that live there. Over the course of my life, I've taken my fair share of cab rides within the city of Newark at all hours of the day and night. In the last two years I've exclusively used Uber. Uber fares are consistently lower than cab fares in Newark—three to five times lower in some instances.

Many cabs in Newark do not use their meters, so prices vary but are uniformly on the high side. Fare for a cross-town trip from Newark Penn Station to my childhood neighborhood will be cited at about $35 by cab drivers. Others may have a lower price cited for them, but I'm often profiled as not a Newark resident despite living there most of my life. Before I started taking Uber, I could usually hold out for a $25 cross-town fare, though found that increasingly difficult toward the end. Many cab drivers at Newark Penn Station are not even interested in picking up passengers going anywhere but the Newark airport.

Uber, according to drivers and residents who use the service that I've talked to, has filled a gap in transportation services for many Newark residents. In some parts of Newark, a 3 a.m. cab ride a short distance is prohibitively expensive, if possible at all. Some cab drivers will simply not service certain neighborhoods or make it difficult to get a cab out there. Not so with Uber, which looks for drivers further and further away until someone accepts your fare request. I have never had a problem hailing an Uber ride in Newark, irrespective of the time or place, even in situations where previously I had been unsuccessful in hailing a cab.

Baraka's distraction about Uber's "cash rich" status notwithstanding, the attempt to bilk Uber out of money hurts those Newark residents whose lives have been made easier by the ride hailing service far more than it hurts Uber. I suspect Baraka, who was a public school administrator and city councilmember before being mayor, has rarely taken a taxi in Newark in his life. He has a city car now that he's a mayor, and he had a city car when he was a city councilman. In fact, many city employees get access to city cars and gas cards.