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Nov 16, 2015 8:01 PM

Despite ordinance, unregistered Uber drivers continue to operate in Portsmouth

PORTSMOUTH - As tension between Uber drivers and taxi companies continues to boil, the City Council is reviewing a proposal to make amendments to a new transportation ordinance.

The ordinance, which went into effect Sept. 17, has essentially banned Uber operators in Portsmouth unless they independently obtain commercial insurance and pass an extensive background check approved by the city.

At issue is the city's ordinance and its conflict with the company's policies and requirements to become an Uber driver. As a result, Uber has also failed to register as a transportation company with the city - making operations of all unregistered Uber drivers illegal.

But despite the conflict and police enforcement of the new ordinance, it hasn't stopped many Uber drivers from continuing to operate in Portsmouth.

On Monday, a NH1 News reporter was able to view 3 Uber cars within service distance of Market Square.

When a ride was requested, driver Harry "The Hawk" Furman arrived within a minute and a half.

Furman agreed to speak to the reporter about his Uber experience during a nearly 2-mile trip around the downtown area.

"The young people really, you know from 21 to 35, won’t take a cab," said Furman. "They want Uber, period."

Furman added that people also have the freedom of choice to drive with whomever they choose.

"Trying to stop Uber is like trying to stop the ocean with a broom," he said. "It's not going to happen."

A Portsmouth resident who has driven for Uber for about 14 months, Furman said he only does it to try and make some extra money.

Although aware of the new ordinance, Furman said he decided to continue driving because even though the rules have changed, the demand for service has not.

"The people here really want Uber. They're not happy with the taxis because of a lot of reasons," he said.

Furman said he is one of multiple unregistered drivers who have chosen to stay in the city after the ordinance was passed, despite the potential of being fined hundreds or even thousand of dollars.

“Well, Uber has my back – so I figure, you know we’re doing a service," he said. "We’re keeping the DWI’s down, that’s huge - keeping people safe, getting them from point A to point B.”

Furman said he hasn't been fined yet, but other Uber operators haven't been so lucky.

On Saturday, Stephanie Franz, of Deerfield, was cited for a second time for not displaying proper signage that identifies her as a registered transport vehicle, according to acting Deputy Chief Frank Warchol.

Franz, a grandmother in her 60's, declined comment to NH1 News on Monday.

Police said Franz was stopped on Islington Street and was cited for $1,000; in accordance with the ordinance on a second violation.

On Monday evening, dozens of Uber drivers and supporters were expected to rally in front of City Hall ahead of the City Council meeting, which is scheduled to discuss the ordinance and the efforts to reach an agreement with the company.

“We’re inviting people to come out and ask the council to, at the very least, stop enforcing this new transportation ordinance," said Christopher David of Free Uber.

David, a former Uber driver, was arrested and charged with felony wiretapping after he allegedly recorded a Daniel Street Tavern bouncer telling him Uber was illegal in the city as he picked up passengers.

After posting the audio clip to YouTube, David said a warrant was issued for his arrest following a complaint filed by the bouncer.

However, David maintains he made the audio recording in a public space where privacy shouldn't be reasonably expected. He is scheduled to appear in court next month.

Meanwhile, the City Council agenda item will address an Uber proposal to make amendments to the ordinance.

If accepted, the amendments would be written by the city attorney and later reviewed and addressed at a public hearing in December.

“You would think, as a tourist destination town, that you’d want to provide the transportation in the easiest way possible and the safest way possible for your visitors," Furman said. "And that’s not the statement that the City Council is making.”

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