The first Council action on updating the taxi and limo codes to accommodate Uber and Lyft went about as you’d expect.
Houston City Council members struggled Tuesday to strike a balance between ensuring paid rides in Houston are available to everyone and encouraging competition from new firms that say they can provide faster service.
Speakers at a joint meeting of two council committees considering changes in taxi regulations said the business models of the new companies, Uber and Lyft, could complicate a system important not just to established businesses, but to city residents dependent on cabs.
“This needs to be broader than who makes a dollar off of it,” said Tomaro Bell, president of the Super Neighborhood Alliance.
Lyft and Uber use non-professional drivers behind the wheels of their personal vehicles. Taxi industry leaders complained that the new companies would not face the same requirements as established ones, such as serving disabled passengers and providing service all over Houston.
“They don’t want the difficult part. They want the easy part,” said George Tompkins, who owns a company with five taxi medallions in Houston. “They want the fruit but they don’t want the vine.”
Council members also blasted the online companies for jumping into the market without approval after months of discussions. The companies’ hasty action complicated the council discussion, said Christopher Newport, chief of staff for the city’s regulatory affairs department.
“There is an implication you are having a conversation under duress,” he said.
Uber and Lyft faced similar concerns when they started service in Seattle, Chicago and Washington, D.C.
The online companies’ ultimate effect on Houston taxi service is difficult to predict, Newport said. Data from other cities doesn’t point to an obvious outcome in Houston.
Taxi companies complained about the potential loss of business before Houston revised its cab laws to cover jitney service that circulates in high-traffic areas. When the city eventually allowed jitneys in certain circumstances, though, their entrance didn’t significantly harm taxi companies.
The shorter chron.com story has a bit more information. I am not surprised that the claim-jumping entries by Lyft and UberX caused some fuss on Council, but in the end I don’t think it will matter. I refer you back to the demand study on taxi service in Houston, which points pretty clearly to Council taking action of some kind to open the market. The Chron sure wants it to happen. I think it will, and I think the market for paid rides is not zero sum; I think it will expand to accommodate the newcomers, though I’m sure there will be some pain for the legacy cab companies. In the end, I believe we will be better off.