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San Antonio City Council to vote on vehicles for hire this week

As we know, the San Antonio City Council is set to update its vehicles for hire ordinances, which is to say it’s getting ready to approve rules that would allow Uber and Lyft to operate legally there. The Express News story on the Council meeting to review the proposed ordinance updates is here, but this time my usual tricks to get to see their paywalled content failed, so I have no idea what that story says. What I do have is two other stories that tell us something interesting. First, the Rivard Report informs us that Lyft may do to San Antonio what it did to Houston – pull up stakes and get out.

Lyft

San Antonio City Council will vote next Thursday on whether to adopt new rules that would allow rideshare companies like Lyft and Uber to legally operate in San Antonio. It’s a process dozens of cities have gone through and dozens more will likely address in the coming months. San Antonio is the latest stop in the national rideshare debate: how do you regulate an “app?”

A representative for Lyft, one such transportation network company (TNC), said the recommended rules presented to City Council B Session on Wednesday would likely mean pulling service from the city as the regulations would make their business model – connecting drivers to riders via a mobile application – too expensive for the company and its drivers to operate in San Antonio.

Lyft suspended operations in Houston earlier this year after similar rules to those proposed locally were approved by Houston City Council. Uber continues to operate in Houston.

[…]

“The (task force) had good recommendations,” said April Mims, Lyft public policy manager. “Those were taken and altered throughout the process … we’re very uncomfortable with these.”

One of the main concerns, Mims said, is the insurance requirements. When the app is “off” in a driver’s car, their personal insurance would apply. When the app is “on” and they’ve initiated the process of picking up a passenger or have picked up a passenger, the TNC’s $1 million insurance policy goes into effect. The problem TNCs have is with the insurance requirement for the in-between stage – when the app is “on” but the driver is essentially waiting for a passenger to request a ride. For this scenario, McManus said, TNCs must provide $200,000 in excess liability to cover costs of accidents that exceed the driver’s policy limits.

“That could increased our costs up to 500%,” Mims said. “Insurance needs to be in place to respond to risk and there is no increased risk to having an app on in the background just like you would Facebook or Ebay or any other app. .. If you know as a driver that all you have to do is turn on your app and you’re covered by our (Lyft’s) insurance, why would you ever buy a new (insurance policy)?”

Lyft and Uber have been required to pay annual vehicle and administrative fees in other municipalities. San Antonio’s proposal calls for a one time, $110 application fee, an annual $160 vehicle permit fee, and a biennial driver permit fee to cover the cost of administrative staff and Ground Transportation Units performing random inspections.

“We’re fine with paying upfront and annual fees,” but the insurance, state background checks, and requiring each driver to provide documentation is too much bureaucracy to navigate for the average part-time rideshare driver, Mims said. “(They’re) only thinking of it comparing apples to apples, but it’s a completely different platform.

The TNCs’ concern is that drivers with other full-time jobs, who are single parents, or juggle complicated schedules will not be able to spend the necessary time and attention to go through a more regulated process.

“(Ultimately) it’ll reduce the number of drivers – will have an impact on passengers because they’re not going to be able to use you guys if they open up the app and there are no drivers,” she told a group of concerned Lyft drivers that attended the almost two-hour meeting on Wednesday. “In order to work, (Lyft) has to be on-demand. If it’s not on demand they might as well call a traditional (taxi) service.”

I’d been wondering if San Antonio would have rules similar to those in Houston. Lyft’s beef with Houston was about background checks, but in the end the effect was the same. But no big deal, I mean Uber (ugh) will still be there, right? Well, maybe not.

Uber

Uber General Manager Leandre Johns said the ride-share company opposes the proposed regulations.

“The city has undermined the very task force they commissioned by amending behind closed doors the recommendations that didn’t align with their agenda,” Johns said in a statement. “Ultimately, this process is unfair to the citizens of San Antonio that have urged city council to embrace transportation options like Uber.”

Johns urged City Council members to vote no to the proposal, saying it “hampers innovation, jobs, and transportation choices for the people of Alamo City.”

[…]

Johns said the meeting was full of countless appalling accusations.

“City officials are entitled to their own opinion but certainly not their own facts. For months, we have worked in good faith with city officials to implement smart regulations that ensure riders have access to a safe, reliable ride,” Johns said.

Huh. A copy of the proposed ordinance is at that link. What if they change the rules and no TNCs apply for permits? That’s not an outcome I would have expected. We’ll see what happens next week.

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