Uber, Lyft could be back in Alaska by June

Taxi drivers in Budapest protested Uber in 2016. (Photo by Wikimedia Commons)

The state House and Senate have both passed bills that allow transportation network companies to operate, which means controversial businesses like Uber and Lyft could open up shop in Alaska as early as June.

The companies allow passengers to book and pay for rides through apps on a smartphone.

Republican Sen. Mia Costello of Anchorage sponsored Senate Bill 14, which still has to go to the governor.

“If the governor signs the bill it will go into effect immediately upon his signature,” Costello said by phone from Juneau. “I do know the companies that were involved in this process are getting ready to bring on drivers and getting ready to bring on riders.”

A few years ago, Uber started doing business in Alaska, but by the end of 2014 was blocked by local and state labor rules. The companies have faced opposition in Anchorage from the taxi industry, which came out strongly against a municipal rule-change to allow the new companies into the market. SB14 now overrides any measures that might have passed at the local level, though it does include an opt-out provision for communities if they bring the issue to voters in an election.

The bill includes safety measures such as federal background checks for drivers. Costello said criticism from current cab drivers about the bill devaluing their livelihoods has to be measured against potential new jobs created by the companies coming into the state.

“I think with any change – and this is an innovative change for transportation – there’s going to be some concerns,” Costello said.

The bill received wide-spread support in both chambers of the Legislature, and is not expected to encounter resistance as it heads to the governor.

Governor Bill Walker said he hadn’t yet read the measure when asked whether he’d sign it at a press availability Thursday.

“I’ll look at that and make a decision when I see it,” Walker said.

According to Patrick Carter, a lobbyist for Uber, Alaska is the last state to pass a legislative bill allowing transportation network companies.

Depending on the time-line, the companies may begin operating as soon as mid-June, Carter said.

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