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Rochester council deadlocks on vote to allow Uber

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Rochester's skyline from Silver Lake Park
Rochester's skyline seen from Silver Lake Park. The city's debate over ridesharing has become a flashpoint as it tries to balance the interests of existing businesses against a massive effort to remake the city.
Alex Kolyer for MPR News file

After an epic debate that lasted until 4 a.m. Tuesday, Rochester City Council members deadlocked on an ordinance that would've allowed ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft to operate in the city. 

Some observers say the ridesharing issue is a test of whether Rochester is prepared to accept the changes necessary to become the talent magnet and world-renowned medical destination it hopes to be.

The vote was a tie at three people a side after one council member left the overnight meeting early. It's likely the council will take up the issue again this year. But if not, proponents hope a newly elected member who joins the council next year will support Uber's arrival in Rochester.

The debate over Uber has become a flashpoint as Rochester tries to balance the interests of existing businesses against a massive effort to remake the city known as the Destination Medical Center. 

Council member Nick Campion, who supports the ordinance, sees ridesharing options as critical to center's success.

"People are going to wonder if we're serious about becoming that world-reknowned place that people go to for medical care," he said.

Officials from the Destination Medical Center Economic Development Agency echoed that concern. The agency is overseeing the massive project to make the Mayo Clinic and Rochester more attractive to patients and tourists. 

In an unusual move, the agency sent a letter to the council last month saying a wider variety of transportation options is necessary to meet market demand among visitors and residents. 

Council members and taxi companies representatives who oppose ride-sharing did not return calls to MPR News.

But during the early morning hearing, Yellow Cab driver Todd Weisbrod said he's worried the quality of Rochester's transportation services would decline with Uber's emergence. 

"You set high standards for your cab drivers so people who come to the city have a good cabbing experience," Weisbrod said. "Now you're going to let Uber come in under a whole different set of rules. To me, that's just not fair."