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Fargo leaders advance downtown plan for taxi, ride-share pickup areas

Under the plan, people in downtown Fargo could gather at five locations to get rides from taxis, Uber and Lyft from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. from Thursday nights through early Sunday mornings.

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Craig Thompson drives his first Uber fare May 14, 2015, through downtown Fargo.
Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
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FARGO — A tentative plan to create five designated cab and ride-share pickup areas in downtown Fargo near Broadway squeaked by the City Commission on Monday night, May 16.

In the works since last December, the plan would allow cabs to park in the designated areas and provide easier access for Uber and Lyft drivers to pick up downtown bar and restaurant patrons from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. Thursday nights through early Sunday mornings.

On-street parking would be restricted in the areas during those times.

The vote to have city police finish planning and developing the new law, which would require ordinance changes, was 3-2.

Voting for approval were Mayor Tim Mahoney and Commissioners Arlette Preston and John Strand.

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Commissioners Dave Piepkorn and Tony Gehrig were opposed.

Police Lt. William Ahlfeldt and Chief David Zibolski explained the plan to the commissioners, saying they had met with the companies involved, the Downtown Community Partnership and many downtown bar and business owners.

The goal of the plan is to disperse large crowds found in front of bars at closing time and to make sober rides more available to bar patrons.

Zibolski and Ahlfeldt said the crowding can result in Uber, Lyft and cabs unable to easily navigate and pick up customers at the bars, traffic snarls, people walking across the streets and sometimes fighting can erupt.

It wouldn't affect where customers are dropped off at night, only during pickups and would result in those calling for Uber, Lyft or cab rides to walk to the sites to meet their rides.

The sites were also selected away from most downtown residential areas "so people aren't woke up at 2 or 3 in the morning," Zibolski said.

It's hoped they can start the designated sites by June 18, and Zibolski said the sites could be changed at any time or the program could be ended.

"We'll monitor it," he said.

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Ahlfeldt said they worked with the ride-share companies to find the hot spots for pickups and the busiest nights, which were of course the weekends, in developing the plan.

The five sites are:

  • behind Old Broadway and across from the Sports Bar on NP Avenue.
  • on First Avenue North by the Gate City Bank parking lot between Broadway and Fifth Street.
  • on Second Avenue North just off Roberts Street and by the U.S. Post Office building.
  • on Fifth Street North and Third Avenue North by the RDO Building parking ramp.
  • near the north end of Broadway on Sixth Avenue North.
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In opposing the program, Gehrig asked if the city had looked at the "potential drawbacks."

He asked if the city has the authority to regulate Uber and Lyft, as he recalled the state saying in 2016 that they couldn't regulate the industry.

However, city prosecutor William Wischer said it's true they can't regulate rates or tax the ride-share companies, but that the city would use parking regulations and ordinances as the way to address the issue.

Gehrig said he didn't want the companies to be harmed as they have provided a great service in helping to reduce drunken driving in the city.

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Zibolski responded that both Uber and Lyft thought the new program was "a good idea."

Gehrig's other concern was if the problem wasn't just being moved to a different area.

"We're not fixing the problem, just moving it to a different area and affecting different people. So the places where they were actually served the alcohol no longer have to deal with the downside after they close."

Strand, who voted for the program, asked about how people with disabilities would be affected.

Ahlfeldt said he didn't think Uber or Lyft could accommodate those customers anyway, but could look into the issue more.

Strand said he would also like to see more input from business owners.

Piepkorn said "the big thing to me is this has to be seasonal. In the wintertime it's a whole different ball game when it falls to 30 below."

Ahlfeldt, who has worked the downtown beat, said people are standing outside regardless, as they can't wait in the bars. He believes they would have less of a wait in the designated zones.

Preston said she thought the issue was "well researched" and that it looked like a solution.

"So I say let them try it," she said.

An almost 50-year veteran of the newspaper business, Amundson has worked for The Forum and Forum News Service for 15 years. He started as a sport reporter in Minnesota. He is currently the city and night reporter for The Forum. bamundson@forumcomm.com 701-451-5665
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