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The rideshare battles continue

From Houston:

The issue came up at yesterday’s council meeting and Mayor Annise Parker said that undercover Houston police sting operations have resulted in 26 citations for Uber and Lyft drivers. They were likely, misdemeanor violations for operating an illegal taxi.

The mayor’s remark was in reply to testimony from Duane Kamins, a partner, along with his brothers in Houston’s second largest cab company, Houston Transportation Services. He’s also a lawyer and filed an affidavit with the state revealing his findings during his own undercover operation where he was charged some dollars for trips to the pharmacy and thereabouts.

“We clearly have two rogue operators in the city of houston today, uber and lyft who are operating in clear violation of Chapeter 46 of the [city] code,” he said.

In his affidavit, which you can view below, Kamins describes getting charged $4.70 for a short trip from an Uber driver with the handle Abdessamad. He also details a $13 trip with Lyft driver Ballagio. And later, a $12 trip with a Lyft driver named Sebastian whom he knocks for relying too much on his GPS to get around.

Kamins, who obviously has a major stake in not wanting to add more competition to the local cabbie game, asked the council to take action against the companies. His beef is that someone is getting compensated for provided commercial transportation services on city streets.

You can click over and see the affidavit; I have not read through it myself. I can say that the statement at the end of the story that “Another taxi study is expected to be presented to the city council next week” is inaccurate. According to Christopher Newport, the Mayor’s office has arranged for two of the consultants that worked up the Houston Taxicab Study to make a presentation to City Council at a joint Texas Transportation Institute-Public Safety committee meeting on April 9th at 2 pm. There’s no new work being presented, just a discussion about the study and a chance for Council to ask questions.

Meanwhile, here’s an update from San Antonio:

The battle over the ability of ride-sharing services like Lyft and Uber to operate in San Antonio reached City Council members Wednesday, as officials heard from dozens of cabdrivers who fiercely argued those companies should play by the existing city rules or get out of town.

Police Chief William McManus told the council’s Public Safety Committee meeting that the city will continue to enforce its vehicle-for-hire ordinance, which for now prohibits ride-sharing services from operating, while his department spends the next 30 days researching how other cities have dealt with these companies.

He agreed to come back to the committee with an update next month.

[...]

The chief’s comments were met with applause from taxi and limo drivers who crowded the room.

Earlier in the meeting, dozens of them spoke passionately and forcefully, urging the city to enforce its vehicle-for-hire ordinance, which currently does not allow ride-sharing services to operate.

They lobbed criticism after criticism at the companies, questioning their safety, their regulations and their intentions.

They held signs saying, “Support your local cabdriver.” Some compared companies like Lyft and Uber to barbarians, carpetbaggers or cockroaches who have invaded the market.

Both Uber and Lyft officials said they will continue to operate but won’t charge passengers for now. Police have said a violation of the vehicle-for-hire ordinance occurs when a financial transaction takes place.

Lyft calls its fares “donations.” Passengers also can give drivers “increased” donations.

For now, Lyft is operating the Lyft Pioneer program in San Antonio, which means they don’t charge passengers for an initial period after the customer first signs up with the company. Lyft spokeswoman Katie Dally said in an email that the company still doesn’t know when the Pioneer program will end.

The Rivard Report adds a few more details:

The committee, chaired by District 7 Councilman Chris Medina includes District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran, District 5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales, District 9 Councilman Joe Krier, and District 10 Councilman Mike Gallagher, will review the matter at May 7 meeting when McManus, in collaboration with the Transportation Advisory Board, will present a proposal for going forward.

How the ordinance will be enforced until then will be kept a “secret” for now as a part of normal SAPD operations, McManus said, provoking a round of laughter after nearly revealing how police intend to catch offending drivers after Viagran posed the question.

See here for the background. My thinking on this really hasn’t changed that much since I first heard about Lyft and Uber. It doesn’t make sense to me to not allow them to operate in Houston, or any other city. It should be possible to change existing regulations to allow them entry while still keeping it fair for legacy taxi services and ensuring that drivers and passengers are sufficiently covered by insurance. I don’t know what Council is going to do with this once they get it – I mean, in the end I do expect Lyft and Uber to be granted entry, at least in some form – but I am ready for them to get on with it. Whatever action Council ultimately takes, I think they need to see it as a start and not as the end. Services like Uber, Lyft, Sidecar, whether you call them “ridesharing” or “transportation network companies”, are brand new. We can talk all we want about innovation and serving the public, but nobody knows what the medium to long term effect of these companies will be. Randy Bear notes that San Francisco is reviewing the economic effect of the newcomers and discussing whether they need their own regulations in addition to what the California Public Utilities Commission adopted. This is a process, and I don’t think we should expect to get it right the first time, given that we have so little experience to guide us. My understanding at this time is that Council should have this on their agenda by the end of the month. Let’s make an honest effort and be prepared to revisit it in another six or twelve months.

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