Free rides suddenly became available in Houston on Thursday night as two online companies clamored for attention before they officially break into the city’s cab market.
Uber, which has been working with the city on a high-end private car service called Uber Black, announced late Thursday it would immediately launch its Uber X ridesharing service. The announcement followed competitor Lyft’s confirmation Wednesday that it would start service Friday.
The pattern is common as the two companies break into metro markets across the country. When one leaps, the other soon follows.
Entry of these services into more than 20 U.S. cities has prompted lawsuits and cease-and-desist letters from taxi owners concerned about their livelihoods and regulators who accused the firms of skirting the law.
Neither company, however, can accept fares in Houston until the city adjusts its taxi and private car rules, said Christopher Newport, chief of staff for the city’s regulatory affairs department.
The sudden leaps into the market also complicate the city’s efforts to rework its regulations, Newport said Wednesday.
In a joint meeting Tuesday, members of two City Council committees are expected to discuss possible changes to the taxi codes. Newport estimated any new regulations would take seven weeks to take effect.
So there you have it. The question is whether this will complicate the process of reviewing and updating Chapter 46, which are the city ordinances governing taxis and the like. I don’t think it will, but I do expect the level of fussing to be elevated for the immediate future. I’m also not sure how many of these free-for-now rides will actually take place, since it’s not clear to me why a future UberX or Lyft driver would want to do that. The services provide whoever is closest to you, not a specific driver you can request. Anyway, next week’s committee meetings ought to be interesting. Anyone have plans to try out one or both of these services while they’re free? PDiddie, who is considerably less sanguine about this than I am, and Texpatriate have more.