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Will Colorado's PUC Take The Car Keys Away From Uber Denver? [UPDATED]

Nathan Heffel

Uber has faced off against taxi companies and public utility commissions over its smartphone car service in other major cities. Now it faces that fight again in Denver.

3/11 1:28 pm: The Denver Post is reporting that a Judge in Denver has said he will not recommend transportation rules that would place companies like Uber in the same class as regulated taxis. The hearing on proposed rule changes continues until five pm this evening. 

Our original story continues below.

Uber styles itself as an ‘on-demand private driver.’ Black luxury cars and SUV’s with leather interiors means they’re not your typical taxi.

The 4-year-old San Francisco startup is quickly moving to major cities across the country. In Denver, Uber went live in August 2012.

Users download the app onto their phone. When a car is needed, they find their location on a map and make a request. The app alerts the nearest driver and sends text messages when the car arrives. The cost of the trip is automatically charged to your credit card.

Uber users say the ease of arranging for a car, as well as arriving in style are worth paying a higher price than a regular taxi fare.

For example, taking Yellow Cab of Denver from downtown to Denver International Airport would cost a flat rate of $51. Uber charges a flat rate of $80.

City officials say Uber may hurt customers by charging them too much during peak times. There is also concern that Uber drivers are not regulated like taxi drivers.

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission is proposing rule changes that, if approved, would effectively end Uber in Denver.

According to an Uber blog post the company is concerned about the following rule changes:

Uber’s pricing model will be made illegal: Sedan companies will no longer be able to charge by distance (section 6301) This is akin to telling a hotel it is illegal to charge by the night. Uber’s partner-drivers will effectively be banned from Downtown — by making it illegal for an Uber car to be within 200 feet of a restaurant, bar, or hotel. (section 6309) This is TAXI protectionism at its finest. The intent is to make sure that only a TAXI can provide a quick pickup in Denver’s city center. Uber’s partner-drivers will be forced OUT OF BUSINESS — partnering with local sedan companies will be prohibited. (section 6001 (ff))

While the Denver business journal says Denver Taxi companies are in favor of the rule changes, the Federal Trade Commission is not.

In written comments to the Public Utilities Commission, the FTC urged the Commission not to adopt the new rule changes that could “inhibit the use of mobile smartphone software applications that allow consumers to arrange and pay for transportation services in new ways.”

Uber isn’t standing still either, they’ve started a petition against the changes and even created the twitter hash tag #UberDenverLove for twitter supporters.

A public meeting on the proposed rule changes is Monday March 11th from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. After the meeting, Uber Denver is hosting a rally which includes a visit by Uber CEO Travis Kalanick.

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