Newport Uber Drivers Face Arrest If They Pick Up Customers

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Rhode Island prepares to crack down on the greatest DUI-prevention method since the invention of cars.

Over on the Uber driver forum, a Newport Uber driver reported that they were informed by a Newport police officer that they would face arrest if they were observed picking up a fare.

I was picking up a fare tonight in Newport, Rhode Island and a policeman waved me down on Thames Street downtown. He asked if I was an Uber driver and when I said yes, he asked if I had a “blue card” and a commercial driver’s license. When I said I did not, he indicated that this is a Rhode Island state requirement, that Uber was supposed to have informed drivers of this fact, and said that he would let me off with a warning this time. Starting next week, he said, this would be strictly enforced. Moreover, he said, I would not just be issued a ticket; if I was observed picking up a person and it was determined I was doing so for payment I would be arrested and charged. He advised me that I should heed the warning and stop driving.

I can only assume he is giving me information based on the guidance he is getting, which may well be driven by political and or local pressures from local taxi companies competing with Uber drivers. I wanted to let Uber and make other drivers are made aware, and so if anything happens there is a record.

We’ve been hearing the rumblings that the state was going to clamp down on Uber for a while, especially after Gina Raimondo was elected governor (though we haven’t actually heard her stance on the company).

Now, it would appear that Rhode Island wants to do what it can to stop drunk driving. That’s why we’re one of 8 states that bans happy hour. If you’re trying to get around during the day, you can call a cab to pick you up…but if it’s a weekend night in the summer, Newport cab companies traditionally just leave the phone off the hook because they have no ability to meet the spike in demand. Pedicabs pick up a lot of that slack, but we still face a situation where tourists will try to flag down anyone in a desperate bid to get back to far-flung hotels in Middletown.

While we haven’t used the service ourselves, we know a lot of people who have, both locally and across the country. We also know people who have been or are Uber drivers. Of all the things one could be arrested for in a 2015 where possession of marijuana has been decriminalized, you wouldn’t expect picking someone up and driving them around to be out there. Suddenly, driving with passengers now ranks up there with sex as something that’s perfectly legal…as long as you don’t charge for it.

What’s really amusing is the fight that taxi companies, government agencies and the like are waging against Uber’s drivers, given that those drivers are in Uber’s crosshairs, too. This is a company that bought away most of Carnegie Mellon’s robotics researchers. Give it a decade and we’re guessing every taxi company in the country will have been replaced by Uber’s self-driving cabs. That’s Uber’s goal anyway.

Well, that and to replace personally-owned cars as well.

UPDATE: Newport Uber Drivers Probably Have A Reprieve…For Now

-Tristan Pinnock, Blast Transportation Correspondent

Tristan's just this guy, ya know?