The Denver Police Department said Monday it is investigating an incident in which a passenger in an UberX ride-sharing car claims he was harassed about the service by an officer during a traffic stop.
In a firsthand account published on the tech news site GeekWire, the passenger, Dave Cook, said his driver was pulled over for speeding Friday about a mile from Denver International Airport.
After receiving the driver's information, the cop opened the car door to the backseat and asked Cook whether he was paying for the ride to the airport and what the charge would be.
Cook, a Seattle resident and the brother of a GeekWire co-founder, alleges that the cop later declared ride-sharing was illegal in Colorado and he would "educate" them on the matter.
In truth, Colorado last month legalized ride-sharing, where drivers use their personal vehicles for the taxi-like service and connect with riders via a smartphone app.
"In our initial review of the facts of this case, the officer corroborates much of what you wrote in your column," Denver Police Chief Robert White said in a letter Monday addressed to Cook. "I find this to be concerning and have opened an investigation into whether the officer's conduct was within policy and appropriate."
White also apologized to Cook for any inconvenience or frustration.
"It's nice that the chief really jumped on the issue immediately," Cook said in an interview Monday evening. "Any citizen should appreciate that whether it was my situation or some other one where there was an abuse-of-power situation."
In the blog post, Cook wrote that he was worried about being arrested after the officer asked for his driver's license.
"It was about this time that I started to get concerned about my own status," Cook wrote. "Why? The officer said that Uber was illegal."
On-demand ride-sharing from Lyft and Uber Technologies launched in Denver last year, immediately drawing concern from regulators and taxi officials. Regulators said the service didn't fit within existing transportation rules, prompting lawmakers to take up the matter this past session.
In June, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed into law a measure that places Lyft and Uber under limited state regulation and mandates insurance coverage limits and other requirements. A safety clause called for the bill to take effect immediately after the signing.
In his letter, White confirmed that the driver was also questioned about whether he had proper insurance for operating his car as a taxi service.
The cop eventually ticketed the driver for going 55 miles per hour in a 45 mph zone, according to a copy of the citation posted by Cook.
After issuing the ticket, the officer repeatedly offered Cook a ride to the airport for free. Cook declined. He paid $37.44 for the UberX ride from downtown Denver to the airport.
In addition to UberX, Uber Technologies offers a separate, black car service provided by partner limo companies.
Uber Denver general manager Will McCollum said he wasn't aware of another instance in which a Denver officer questioned an UberX rider.
"At the end of the day, UberX is very new to some people," McCollum said. "That's what this legislation was about. It's about peace of mind for the riding public. And, hopefully, it's about peace of mind for the police department as well."