| Ptathan Chorruangsak, Shutterstock

New Hampshire nixes city Uber ordinances with state law

New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan signed legislation on Monday to regulate ride-sharing services statewide, effectively ending contentious attempts by some of the state’s largest cities to force Uber to comply with local taxi regulations.

The law, which requires drivers for ride-sharing services to carry insurance and undergo criminal background checks, was sought not just by Uber, but by business organizations such as the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce so the services would not be forced to comply with multiple municipal regulations.

"Today marks an important moment where New Hampshire has embraced innovation and options in enacting smart, sensible ride-sharing regulations,” Uber’s New Hampshire General Manager Cathy Zhou said in a statement.

Rep. Steven Smith, a Charlestown Republican and chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said he co-sponsored the bill after seeing how difficult it was for cab companies to survive in his rural part of the state.

“I live in Sullivan County, and a rural part of it,” he said. “We have seen cab companies come and go, generally failing because there is not enough rider volume to sustain a conventional cab business. This is devastating to people who cannot drive to their jobs or doctor appointments because they have become disabled, their car broke down, or they lost their license.

“My hope is that the ability to drive for transportation network companies will increase the availability of transportation in this part of the state. The part-time nature of the agreement also means that people who need extra income may be able to make money around their schedule.”

The legislation was prompted by efforts in Manchester, the state’s largest city, and Portsmouth, a coastal city with a lively tourism trade, to apply city taxi regulations to ride-sharing services. 

Peter Bresciano, chairman of Portsmouth’s Transportation Services Commission, opposes the law, saying it will make Portsmouth residents less safe.

In Portsmouth, the city conducts surprise inspections of taxis, Bresciano said, so cabs there get inspected twice a year — once for the state inspection, once for the city. Without that extra inspection, drivers for ride-sharing services are likely to take risks that endanger the public, he said.

“Do I, as an independent driver, say I’m really concerned about the safety of my passengers or do I say, ‘Mmm, it’s going to cost me $500 to get my brakes done and I’ve got three months (until the state inspection)?’”

He said he also feared that drivers for ride-sharing services would make themselves temporarily unavailable during times of peak demand to drive up prices.

Instead of hurting consumers or cab companies, the new law will help both by creating more options, Rep. Smith said.

“In large cities, you will always want cabs on the street that can be hailed. I don't see Manchester cabs being phased out by this,” he said. “The possibility exists for them to add capacity without overhead by becoming hybrid companies, with regular cabs out on the road and part-time cars on standby via an app.

“New things are always scary. I believe Manchester and Portsmouth will find ways to use Transportation Networking Companies to enhance their public transportation, rather than replace it.”

Calling ride-sharing services “an integral part of the shared economy of the 21st century,” Gov. Hassan said, “ensuring that Uber and other ride-sharing companies have a permanent home here in New Hampshire will help to make our state more attractive for students, young professionals, entrepreneurs and visitors alike, and the governor is proud to have signed this bipartisan bill into law.”

The legislature in neighboring Massachusetts, which competes with New Hampshire for tech industry jobs, is still considering a bill to regulate ride-sharing services more heavily than New Hampshire has, including a five-year ban on such services at Boston Logan Airport.