Uber, the San Francisco-based ridesharing service, is making efforts to return to Anchorage and possibly expand to other Alaska communities.
“We’re in the early stages of meeting with folks and gathering information. We’re looking to return to Anchorage in the next couple of years,” said Uber spokeswoman Taylor Patterson.
Brian Gephardt, Uber’s general manager for Frontier states, was in Anchorage this week, meeting with community members about what it would take to do business again in Anchorage. The ridesharing company launched in Anchorage in September 2014 and offered rides until March 2015.
The company ran afoul of state labor law and paid $77,925 to the Department of Labor and Workforce Development as a result. The department said Uber misclassified its drivers as independent contractors rather than employees, allowing Uber to avoid paying unemployment insurance, taxes and workers’ compensation premiums.
In an Aug. 25, 2015 settlement with the state, Uber agreed not to operate in Alaska unless state law is changed to explicitly exempt its drivers from workers’ compensation and other labor requirements.
Uber has successfully gotten legislation passed in other states that recognizes the company’s “unique business model as a transportation network company,” said Patterson.
Patterson wouldn’t say who Gebhardt spoke with or what the company’s strategy is for returning to Alaska.
“We’re exploring all options right now,” the Phoenix-based spokeswoman said.
Former state representative Andrew Halcro, head of the Anchorage Community Development Authority, said he met with Gebhardt. The Uber executive told him the company will work to get legislation re-introduced next year when lawmakers return to Juneau that would allow the ridesharing service to operate in Anchorage. Bills introduced for that purpose last session stalled, Halcro said.
“We all recognize that Uber is desperately needed in Anchorage. Not just the transportation part of it, but the economic opportunities it creates. In an economy like this, this is not an opportunity you should overlook,” Halco said.
No one at the Anchorage Taxicab Permit Owners Association was available to comment on Wednesday. Members of the association in the past have opposed Uber’s entry into the Anchorage market unless the company is regulated the same way as taxis.
A spokesman for Mayor Ethan Berkowitz said the mayor supports expanded transportation options for the city “but feels everyone in the business would need to operate under the same set of rules or guidelines.”
Contact KTUU Senior Digital Reporter Paula Dobbyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, 907-762-9242 or @pauladobbyn