Despite having a newly-released draft ordinance in hand, City Council members spent a Tuesday committee hearing asking many of the same questions about regulating ride-sharing services as they did months ago.
Echoing concerns raised by taxi and limousine companies, council members grilled Parker administration officials about setting rules for emerging services that connect riders to willing drivers via smartphone applications.
Repeatedly throughout the three-hour hearing, cab and limo drivers stood up as council members asked questions that centered on their fears that new regulations would create an unfair business advantage for the new services and eat away at their livelihoods.
“What will the effect be on the public if the taxicab companies are no longer viable?” Councilman Oliver Pennington asked.
“The taxicab companies will continue to be viable,” said Tina Paez, director of the city’s Department of Administration and Regulatory Affairs. “They probably will lose some market share.”
The administration’s conclusion is that existing operators will adjust, pointing to studies from other cities that have chosen to regulate, rather than ban, the ride-sharing services.
“What we’ve seen, especially if you look at that Seattle data that just came out from last year with two years of operations … they’ve actually seen a growth in the number of trips and a growth in revenues,” Paez said. “It’s only 3 percent, but if they were having a significant impact where they were cannibalizing, you would have seen a significant decrease.”
Lauren Barrash, founder of The Wave jitney shuttle service, disagreed.
She said her business already has seen a decline because her target market is the same as Uber and Lyft, which have been operating in Houston since February.
Ahead of a City Council decision, both services had offered free trips until last week, when Uber said it would charge riders.
Critics, however, say the two have been charging customers for weeks.
“My April revenue is the lowest in 2014 and 2013,” Barrash said. “January is traditionally our lowest month. Currently, for April, we’re at half of what January 2014 was. … I might not be as big as Yellow Cab, but I will be impacted the quickest. It will put me out of business.”
That would be unfortunate if it happens, and I confess I hadn’t given much thought to non-cab operators like The Wave. With all due respect, however, Council is no more obligated to protect jitneys like The Wave than they are to protect legacy cabs. I’d hate to see The Wave go under, but I’d also hate to see Houston try to deny the existence of change in the business. The basic idea behind the draft ordinance, which will make Uber and Lyft comply with the same safety and inspection requirements as the cabs, seems like the right direction to me. I look forward to Council finishing the job. PDiddie, who is not a fan, Campos, who thinks the lack of representation by Uber/Lyft supporters at the meeting could upset the conventional wisdom about how this turns out, and The Highwayman have more.