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Cyber insurance

Seems like a good idea.

Houston City Council on Wednesday unanimously agreed to spend $471,000 on cyber insurance, becoming the latest Texas municipality trying to bolster its response to growing technological risks.

The insurance can cover up to $30 million in expenses related to security breaches in the city’s network, including crisis response, recovery of losses and answers to legal claims stemming from cyberattacks.

While some data breaches are preventable, the prevalence of cybersecurity threats against city governments nationwide prompted Houston to take steps to insure itself, said At-large Councilman David Robinson, chairman of council’s Transportation, Technology and Infrastructure committee.

“There are those things that are just beyond the reach or scope of expected due diligence and preparation,” Robinson said. “You need to be prepared for the unknown.”

In the event of a cyberattack, such as hacking or phishing, in which people pose as trustworthy sources to obtain money or information, the insurance coverage could pay for crisis management resources, computer forensics, credit monitoring and call center services.

After a security threat is detected, the new policy could cover any loss of income or expense from the interruption of computer systems, according to council background materials outlining the insurance. It could be used to pay the cost of restoring or recollecting data affected by a cyberattack, as well the cost of investigating threats. The insurance policy also can be used for liability claims made against the city for failing to protect data or prevent access to confidential information.

This makes sense. Of course, as an organization you want to do everything you can to prevent an incident, but as we say in the business, it’s not a matter of if you’ll get hacked, it’s a matter of when. Like what happened to Harris County earlier this year. All of your vendors and suppliers and business partners are potential avenues for compromise, too. While I hope we’ll never need to use it, this is a smart investment.

Your auto insurance rates are about to go up

Another gift to us from Harvey.

Auto insurance companies have restricted options for Houston-area drivers looking to purchase new policies and replace cars flooded by Hurricane Harvey, and comprehensive rates are expected to rise after the loss of an estimated half-million vehicles.

Some carriers have imposed temporary limits on selling insurance to customers in Harvey’s path, hesitant to assume new risk even as floodwaters recede. Experts expect longer-term changes as carriers reassess their rates after a spate of intense storms across the state.

“Look at our most recent history,” said Mark Hanna, spokesman for the Insurance Council of Texas. “This the third flood you’ve had affecting tens of thousands of vehicles, and that’s had a huge impact on comprehensive coverage.”

[…]

The Texas Department of Insurance is working to determine the number of carriers that have taken similar approaches after the storm. Spokesman Jerry Hagins said most companies have in the past resumed normal operations within three days after a major storm, but Harvey’s magnitude appears to have changed their approach.

“It’s still a very fluid situation,” he said. “There are some things that aren’t typical about the industry response.”

Hard to argue with the proposition that the risks of car ownership are higher now than they were before. I wonder how much of this will filter down to the neighborhood level, or even the block level – that is, if your house hasn’t flooded, will your car insurance rates rise? Wouldn’t surprise me. This is the world we live in now.

Statewide Uber bill appears dead

Close, but no cigar.

Uber

A bill to establish statewide rules for “transportation network companies” like Uber and Lyft has apparently run out of road.

Rep. Chris Paddie, who authored the measure, said on Tuesday that looming legislative deadlines had rendered the idea all but dead. He said he would look for other avenues for the high-profile proposal, but said his options are limited in the session’s waning days.

The Marshall Republican admitted that “maybe it’s something for another time.”

“This process, which is a great process, makes it very difficult to pass legislation,” he said. “My bill, in this case, was a casualty of the process.”

Lyft

That result – common for bills at this stage – appears to mark an unspectacular end for a bill that was at the center of high-dollar lobbying efforts for and against it.

[…]

But the surest sign that Paddie’s effort faces trouble came on Tuesday, when the House voted overwhelmingly for a bill that would create statewide rules for “transportation network companies” on just one topic: insurance.

That more limited bill had the support of the city of Dallas, for instance, and representatives of Uber and Lyft. While Paddie said he obviously favored his approach, he nonetheless called that effort a “nice first step.”

See here, here, and here for the background. Lots of bills died at midnight last night, but in the parlance of The Princess Bride, Rep. Paddie’s bill is just mostly dead; it won’t be all dead until sine die. As such, it would still be nice for the Mayoral candidates to have an opinion on it, because if it does get revived it will happen all at once and with little to no notice. In the meantime, I don’t know what the bill that would establish insurance rules for TNCs is, but that’s the approach I have advocated from the beginning, so it’s fine by me. We’ll see if it makes it through the Senate. The Trib, which notes the similar deadline-caused demise of the Tesla bills, has more.

Statewide Uber/Lyft bill passes out of committee

It’s gotten better, but it’s still not good enough.

Uber

A bill to establish statewide rules for “transportation network companies” like Uber and Lyft has been tweaked to address some concerns that its background check requirements weren’t stringent enough.

That change – which would allow cities to require that drivers be fingerprinted as part of such a check – was enough for the bill win passage out of the House Transportation Committee with a 10-2 vote on Wednesday.

The revised bill still isn’t likely to win over cities like Dallas, which would still see their recently crafted vehicle-for-hire regulations essentially wiped out. And with just 40 days left in the session, the legislation still has a long road ahead to become law.

But the bill’s author, Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, said he was optimistic.

“We’ve eliminated the vast majority of concerns,” said Paddie, who added that Uber and Lyft remain on board with the legislation.

The legislation would create statewide rules for companies like Uber and Lyft on issues ranging from vehicle standards to insurance requirements to permitting. The Department of Motor Vehicles would administer the rules, which wouldn’t apply to cabs and limos.

[…]

A sticking point in the Legislature has been driver fingerprinting – which isn’t required in Dallas, but is in other cities. And Paddie’s latest amendment to his bill could perhaps allay the worries of some lawmakers and cities who wanted that flexibility.

See here and here for the background. The Chron explains why cities are still opposed to HB2440.

Lyft

The original bill would have pre-empted local ordinances in favor of statewide regulation, eliminating the ability of a city to regulate background checks for Uber drivers.

State Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, who authored the bill, said it will allow cities across the state to enforce local ordinances requiring fingerprint background checks for drivers, a major sticking point for local authorities.

He said that change will happen on the House floor because a reworked version introduced Wednesday had a “drafting problem” that muddled the language on local control of background checks.

“That will give the authority to the cities that if they chose to require more in that they want to require fingerprints, as Houston does, with this change they will be able to do that,” he said.

Paddie, R-Marshall, added: “We basically said ‘cities, we heard ya.”

Uber has vigorously fought against attempts to require its drivers to be subjected to fingerprint-based background checks. Paddie said Uber and Lfyt have agreed to changes giving cities the ability to write and enforce rules for background checks.

New language inserted into the bill also allows cities to require Uber and similar companies that link riders and drivers by smartphone to access a state criminal fingerprinting database, potentially key to help win support from skeptical lawmakers. Paddie, however, said he planned to replace that section of the bill with new language making clear that his bill does not pre-empt cities from requiring fingerprint-based checks.

The bill passed the transportation committee 10-2, with Democratic Reps. Yvonne Davis of Dallas and Celia Israel of Austin opposed.

Davis questioned if allowing cities to set their own ordinances for background checks would keep in place a “mish-mash” of local regulations that the bill originally sought to undo.

“There’s still potential for a mish-mash,” Paddie said, highlighting that standards for fees and insurance would still be regulated statewide.

The new language in the bill “does not prohibit a municipality from requiring by ordinance a transportation network company to access the electronic clearinghouse and subscription service under Section 411.0845, Government Code, for transportation network drivers.”

That assurance, however, doesn’t go nearly far enough and is “useless” in assuring drivers are properly screened, said Lara Cottingham, deputy assistant director in the city’s Regulatory Affairs Department.

Conducting background checks and accessing the clearinghouse are very different things. The clearinghouse is a database of fingerprints collected by various municipal and state agencies.

Honestly, this sounds a lot better, and I’m glad to hear Rep. Paddie talk about working with the cities on this, but the devil remains in the details, especially given that the bill is not yet a finished product. As we know, the experience in Houston has shown that anything less than full fingerprinting is insufficient. The “mish-mash” of not overriding stricter city ordinances on background checks is a feature, not a bug. If that stays in place, I think I’ll be all right with this. Let’s keep an eye on this as it progresses to the House floor, and do feel free to contact your State Rep and let him or her know how you feel about it. And of course – broken record alert – it would be nice to know how the Mayoral candidates feel about it, too. At least with Rep. Sylvester Turner, if it does go to a vote in the House we’ll have his opinion on the record. The rest of them will have to tell us on their own.

Do we need a statewide solution for Uber and Lyft?

Bill Hammond of the Texas Association of Business thinks so.

Uber

Fans of apps like Uber and Lyft may find that the rules governing their operations in one city differ dramatically from those in a community down the street or across the state. That not only creates unnecessary confusion for consumers and drivers who use the apps but also chills and complicates efforts to bring this new technology — or other similar innovations or services — to more Texans across the state. And in some instances, it has forced these companies to cease operations in cities where they were already providing safe rides.

I’ve long been a proponent of forging compromise and pioneering solutions for many of our state’s most vexing problems, and congested roadways are clearly high on that list. Transportation network companies are an important part of a larger effort to reform and transform the state’s transportation system.

That’s why it’s time we brought clarity and consistency to regulations governing these new technologies.

Lyft

Texas boasts a long-running tradition of embracing public policy that encourages competition, increases consumer choice and expands economic opportunity. House Bill 2440 is consistent with this successful Texas model.

[…]

HB 2440 is a way for Texans’ locally elected state lawmakers to ensure that consistent, reasonable requirements and local concerns governing the technology are established and applied statewide.

We should embrace policy that creates clear standards for insurance and ensures that all current and future transportation network technologies fully protect drivers and riders. Background check requirements are extensive and clearly defined in the proposed legislation as well.

I noted HB2440 before, and wasn’t a fan of it then. I still think it should be within the discretion of cities to regulate transportation network companies as they see fit. That said, if this bill or another like it were to clarify some of the thorny insurance questions that have made the process of writing local ordinances that much harder, I’d support that. I get the urge to deal with this in the Legislature, but let’s take a more minimal approach first. Surely someone like Bill Hammond can appreciate that.

Or the Lege could maybe take up the issue of what constitutes minimal safety regulations, since stories like this don’t do much to enhance Uber’s reputation.

Duncan Eric Burton would not have been eligible for a city-issued permit to drive for Uber, a city official said Tuesday, because he had left prison less than three years earlier after serving 14 years on a felony drug charge.

But Burton, like an unspecified number of other drivers for the smartphone-app ride-sharing service, was working without a permit in January, when he allegedly sexually assaulted a passenger.

And Uber’s background check, which he passed, didn’t flag his federal conviction because it occurred more than seven years before he applied to drive for Uber; the company limits background checks for all crimes other than sex offenses to seven years.

The disclosure of Burton’s criminal record just a few days after he was charged with sexually assaulting a drunken passenger raised new questions about the company’s procedures and the city’s capacity to enforce regulations intended to ensure passengers’ safety.

The conviction here was for drug trafficking, not a sex crime, so one can’t really say that this driver was any more of a risk to passengers than anyone else. On the other hand, a “background check” that fails to reveal a 14-year stint in the federal clink doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. You may recall that Lyft left Houston rather than comply with the city-mandated background checks. More recently, Uber’s contention that San Antonio’s background check requirements were too onerous was one reason why they abandoned that city. I’m thinking this is a statement they’d like to have back.

The regulations adopted in December would have required drivers to pass a city-reviewed criminal background check, including fingerprinting, before getting a permit. The proposed changes would have allowed drivers to start operating once they pass the company’s background check, but still required them to pass the city background check within 14 days to get a full permit.

[Chris Nakutis, Uber’s general manager for Texas] said Uber partners with a third party to conduct background checks on people applying to become drivers and that it checks sex-offender registries and criminal databases. That should be sufficient, Nakutis contended.

Yeah, maybe not. And once again, we cannot escape the local control implications.

The idea that it’s in the public’s best interest to have the ability to regulate companies like Uber stripped from municipalities is one that’s hard to fully justify. This business model is a relatively new one, and it’s unclear as of yet what the long-term impact on the transportation infrastructure will turn out to be. It’s possible that Uber and Lyft are the future, and even if they do drive the cab companies out of business, no one will miss them. It’s also possible that there may be an unforeseen impact on the market that would be best managed by an entity that’s more active than the part-time body that is the Texas Legislature.

Furthermore, it’s hard to say that what’s right for Abilene, when it comes to maintaining a regulatory framework for new, technology-based companies, is what’s right for San Antonio. The city government out by the Alamo may be in the pocket of Big Taxi, but if one city wants to take a slow, measured approach to dealing with massively disruptive business models, while others are more keen to embrace them wholeheartedly, it’s hard to see why exactly the Legislature needs to put a stop to that.

In other words, we’re very much in the experimental phase when it comes to Uber, Lyft, etc. It seems to make sense for those experiments to be confined to lower-stakes situations (i.e., one city rather than all of them), flexible regulatory bodies (i.e., a full-time city council rather than a legislature that meets for just a few months every other year), and a multitude of approaches to regulation to see what might be most effective, rather than rushing to a plan that the companies being regulated endorse so strongly that they’re suggesting their customers co-sign, or risk Uber leaving the state of Texas for good.

The contrast between the demand for “states’ rights” and the push to subjugate cities to the will of the state government would be funny if it weren’t so infuriating. We’ll see if this approach, which as the Texas Monthly post notes includes a petition effort by Uber, gets anywhere.

Uber to leave San Antonio

Not unexpected.

Uber

Uber management sent a letter to Mayor Ivy Taylor and City Council Wednesday, warning that the rideshare service will leave San Antonio on March 1 unless the recently-passed existing is modified or repealed.

Uber representatives say the new ordinances raises “substantial barriers” to ridehsare companies operating in the city. The ordinance was aggressively pushed by the local taxi industry and former Police Chief William McManus.

Mayor Taylor and Councilmember Rebecca Viagran (D3), chair of the City’s Public Safety Committee, which studied the issue and recommended the restrictive measure while praising the local taxi industry, led Council in approving the ordinance. Mayor Taylor and some of the council members who supported the new ordinance have acknowledged that they have never personally experienced the rideshare service and refuse to do so.

[…]

“After much consideration, it is clear that these regulations will cripple Uber’s ability to serve drivers and riders in San Antonio. A vote in support of these regulations was a vote against ridesharing, and if the rules remain unchanged, Uber will have no choice but to leave San Antonio,” stated Chris Nakutis, general manager for Uber Texas in the letter sent out early Wednesday evening. “We respectfully ask the city to repeal these burdensome requirements and replace them with smart regulations, like those adopted by Austin, that protect public safety while at the same time fostering technological innovations that enhance transportation options and economic development for the city.”

See here, here, and here for the background on San Antonio. Gotta say, whatever you think of Uber, it might have been better for Council to have put this issue off until after the May election, since at least two of the Mayoral candidates – Mike Villarreal and Leticia Van de Putte – supported having Uber and Lyft in town, and likely would have taken a different approach to crafting the ordinance. They both supported delaying the decision as well. (I don’t know where Tommy Adkisson stands on vehicles for hire; all this happened before he formally announced his candidacy.) That said, both companies did their usual operate-as-if-they-had-approval-even-though-they-didn’t thing, and were frequently crosswise with SAPD Chief William McManus, who served on the committee that wrote the revised ordinance and appeared to be a taxi sympathizer. One could easily argue that this was their own arrogance coming back to bite them in the rear fender.

As for Lyft, it hasn’t committed to a course of action yet.

Rideshare representatives agree with checks and inspections, but not to the degree that the local ordinance demands. They also point to the insurance grey area when the app is turned on a car, but has not been assigned to pick up a customer. New products such as the one offered by USAA in Colorado offer an alternative to rideshare company insurance covering that grey area.

“Expensive fees, excessive insurance regulations, and burdensome processes do not enhance public safety; they will eliminate a safe transportation option,” Nakutis stated.

Lyft representatives did not go so far as to say they would cease operation in San Antonio.

“We hope the City Council will revisit these regulations and allow Lyft drivers to continue providing safe, affordable, and friendly rides to people in San Antonio. Unfortunately, without any changes to the law before the March 1st date of compliance, it will be extremely difficult for our peer-to-peer model to operate in the city,” stated Lyft spokesperson Chelsea Wilson in an email.

See here for more on the USA offering. I wonder if both companies leave if the ordinance will be reconsidered under the next Mayor. Maybe, maybe not, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

USAA to offer “rideshare” insurance

Noted for future reference.

Uber

USAA has launched a pilot program in Colorado that gives rideshare drivers the opportunity to sign up for a policy that extends their existing USAA coverage and deductibles and provides enhanced coverage the moment rideshare application is turned on until to the moment they are hired to pick up a customer.

This interim phase of the rideshare process, when a driver is technically on the job or driving to the job, but not yet connected with a customer, has proven difficult to resolve in terms of liability and exactly who is responsible for coverage, the driver or the rideshare company.

Commercial use of a personal vehicle may void personal insurance policies in the event of an accident and TNCs don’t want to foot the bill for drivers that aren’t technically “working” for them en route to a specific customer. Many drivers wait in their living rooms or at coffee shops to be hired.

Lyft

“It (the pilot program) covers that gap,” said Jesse Mata, USAA product management director based in San Antonio.

USAA’s pilot policy will act as the primary insurance during this “unmatched phase” of ridesharing, Mata explained. USAA is not the first insurance company to work with rideshare, but it is one of the first major companies to begin to experiment with a new product to cover ridesharing.

According to USAA, the pilot policy costs about $6-$8 more per month, or roughly $40-$50 more for a six-month insurance policy.

The insurance question has been around for as long as Uber and Lyft have been around. It’s come up in all of the city debates about making Uber and Lyft legal to operate as vehicles for hire, and was a particular point of contention in San Antonio. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in Colorado, and at what point the question gets revisited here in Texas if it is a success up there.

Checking in on Uber and Lyft in San Antonio

San Antonio City Council will soon be taking up with vehicles for hire issue, and so far things have gone about as smoothly as you’d expect.

Lyft

A proposal from City staff to integrate rideshare companies into the existing Vehicle for Hire Ordinance, and therefore legalizing rideshare operations in San Antonio, was met with unanimous opposition from the Transportation Advisory Board (TAB) Monday evening. It seems arguments from all sides of the issue remain unresolved – and just as heated.

The TAB is made up of citizens, representatives from transportation, tourism, and hospitality industries. The board’s vote to reject the proposal that would legalize rideshare was not surprising.

The traditional vehicle for hire (taxi, limo, shuttle, carriage) industry claims that the transportation network companies are unfairly and unsafely circumventing regulation under the guise of mobile technology. The TNC’s, and San Antonio Police Department Assistant Director Steven Baum, claim that regulations need to be changed to accommodate for an evolving industry – including its technology.

Uber

“The (proposed) system’s a little different, the system for the transportation network companies puts responsibility on the companies to vet the drivers (and vehicles) according to city standards,” Baum said. Traditional companies go through a testing and verification process through the City.

“The way we validate (those standards) is we do random, unannounced inspections,” he said, compared to the regularly scheduled inspections granted to traditional vehicles for hire and their drivers. Baum assured TAB members that neither public safety nor the city’s economy would be put at risk.

“I can’t believe you’re shoving this ordinance down our throat,” said TAB member George Alva during one of the most heated exchanges between a board member and Baum. “From the very beginning your mind was made up.”

Three months ago Baum was tasked by the City Council Public Safety Committee to see if there was a way to integrate rideshare into the current ordinance (Chapter 33 of City Code) and present his findings at the committee’s Aug. 6 meeting. From there, the committee can decide if further research is required or if the proposal should proceed to a City Council vote.

See here and here for the background. The Council committee will have both the committee report and the TAB’s rejection of it to take into consideration. Good luck with that, y’all.

On a tangential note, Joshua Sanders, one of the people that has been representing Lyft in Houston, sent me this update to Lyft’s insurance policy. The point of this is that once a ride has been accepted, Lyft’s commercial policy is the primary policy in all instances now. As we know, there have been questions about how insurance works with TNCs like Uber and Lyft, and recent stories have indicated that representatives of Texas’ insurance industry see gaps in the coverage. I would be interested to know what they think about this.

Finally, there’s a provocative op-ed in the Chron from Michael Zoorob, who is an intern working as a research assistant at the Southwest ADA Center, a nonprofit disability organization in Houston. He takes Uber and Lyft to task for their lack of accessibility for disabled folks.

So why can’t the disabled community just use other modes of transportation? For one thing, the rapid entrance of Uber and Lyft – following a pattern of “break the rules and ask questions later” – has eroded the supply of accessible taxis, as seen in some cities. In San Francisco, a quarter of the wheelchair-accessible taxi fleet is unused as taxi drivers have flocked to ride-sharing companies.

For all the complaints about ride-share companies, you’d have a tough time finding a best-practices model among traditional taxi services. In Houston, there are only 50 accessible taxis on the market covering more than 600 square miles. They make up about one-fiftieth of all taxis. So if you use a wheelchair, good luck hailing a cab.

As a society, we have decided that people with disabilities deserve equal opportunity to participate in public life. This logic compelled Congress in 1990 to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act. In his signing remarks, analogizing the ADA with the fall of the Berlin Wall, President George H. W. Bush declared: “We will not accept, we will not excuse, we will not tolerate discrimination in America. … I now lift my pen to sign this Americans with Disabilities Act and say: Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down.”

It is precisely this “shameful wall of exclusion” that Uber, Lyft and other transportation providers seek, however unwittingly, to maintain with their standards of service to the disabled community. And it is wrong.

It is wrong to relegate citizens with disabilities to a separate, segregated system of transportation, just as it is wrong to deny them access to City Hall or to a grocery store because accommodating them is costly. It is a fact of American history that when marginalized groups are allowed access only to segregated services, these services tend to be inferior. This is the reality for many people with disabilities who must rely on state-provided paratransit services.

Uber and Lyft must play by the same rules as everyone else in the taxi marketplace, including providing service to everyone – a standard that also bears improving among taxi companies. Being innovative does not excuse trampling on the rights of people with disabilities.

As Zoorob notes, there was a lawsuit filed recently against Uber and Lyft by disability rights activists. I’ve said before that I’m not sure how their business model, which relies on the personal vehicles of their drivers, can handle making these accommodations. Zoorob makes a compelling case that they need to figure it out, or else.

UPDATE: Meanwhile, the Chron opines again in favor of Uber and Lyft, while CM Stephen Costello and Texpatriate’s Noah Horwitz, who is working for Cindy Clifford’s firm, have dueling op-eds in TribTalk about it.

Will we finally get a vote on vehicles for hire this week?

Remember last month when Council was supposed to vote on a vehicles for hire ordinance change to allow Uber and Lyft to operate here in some fashion? It was put off till July 30 to allow for some form of “consensus” to emerge among the stakeholders. How’s that going? Slowly, it would seem.

Lyft

At least 2 percent of vehicles for hire in Houston would be capable of serving disabled passengers who require special treatment under revised rules proposed by city officials.

The changes, part of the debate about new companies barging into the Houston paid ride market, would meet what officials said is the anticipated demand for cabs and other vehicles in Houston by those who are in a wheelchair or who require a lift to get into a car.

Far more than 2 percent of Houston cabs and limousines are accessible to disabled passengers now.

Service to the disabled was one of the chief concerns expressed by City Council members as they debated regulatory changes that would open the local market to new companies such as Lyft and Uber. The companies pair drivers using their own vehicles with customers interested in hitching a ride. Lyft and Uber use smartphone applications to pair drivers and riders, then take a cut of what the rider pays.

[…]

Uber

Other than the provisions for the disabled, little of the 140-page Chapter 46 of the city code changed since council members delayed a decision last month. Beyond the 2 percent standard, the regulations would require city officials to periodically gauge the demand and progress of disabled for-hire vehicle availability.

Yellow Cab alone already meets the 2 percent threshold for the entire city, in part because the agency is a provider of disabled rides for the Metropolitan Transit Authority, which pays for rides for some clients. According to a 2013 study, Yellow Cab has more than 200 vehicles compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act and equipped with wheelchair lifts.

Currently the city has fewer than 2,500 taxi permits and fewer than 1,900 limo permits issued. It would take more than 5,000 new vehicles entering the paid ride business before the industry would risk having too few vehicles to meet the 2 percent standard.

You’d think we could have arrived at this point in less than 45 days, but whatever. Cab companies were reviewing the revised rules as of last report. I’m going to step out on a limb here and guess that they still won’t be happy about them. On the one hand, it’s not clear to me that just because there will be an increase in the total number of vehicles for hire in Houston that there will also be an increase in demand for rides by folks that need vehicles that are accessible to the disabled. But that doesn’t mean that the newcomers shouldn’t need to carry some of that load as well. How you ensure that Uber and Lyft have some number of cars that can give rides to people with disabilities is still an open question. You could require them to have a certain number of such vehicles available and make their app have an option to request one, which means in effect that they’d be operating like traditional cab companies in this respect. Or I suppose you could require them to have some number of drivers who own such vehicles among their troupe of available drivers for at least some set number of hours per day. I have no idea if that could work.

Perhaps it would be useful to see how other cities are handling this issue. The city of Minneapolis just voted to allow Uber and Lyft to operate. The question of rides for folks with disabilities came up there as well.

The new ordinance distinguishes the companies from taxicabs, creates a process for them to become licensed and specifies what insurance they must carry. Insurance is a particularly complicated issue for the services, since they typically use hybrid plans that complement a driver’s personal policy.

But taxi industry representatives weren’t happy with a two-tier fee structure that will charge major taxi companies significantly more than transportation network companies. Others have concerns that changes to the wheelchair-accessible vehicle requirements could backfire.

Minneapolis follows California, Colorado, Seattle, Chicago and Baton Rouge in passing legislation to specifically regulate the services; St. Paul is crafting its own version, while other cities have interim agreements.

[…]

Another point of contention related to how a proposed incentive program for wheelchair-accessible vehicles will work. The city will fund it using a $10,000 surcharge, which replaces an existing requirement on companies to provide the vehicles themselves (which never acheived compliance).

“I dont think there’s a taxicab company that will do it,” said Waleed Sonbol, owner of Blue and White Taxi, following the vote. That concern that no one will bid on the program was reflected in a letter earlier this week from disability advocates.

[Ordinance sponsor Jacob] Frey said the new system will actually work better, however. “If you’re an individual with disabilities and you need transportation, you call one number and you will get service that is fully ADA accessible,” Frey said. “And we aready have four or five different companies that are chomping at the bit” to provide that service.

Council Member Cam Gordon, who expressed concerns Thursday with the disability provisions, said the entire process convinced him that the Twin Cities should be tackling transportation regulations as a region.

“This whole process has only reaffirmed for me my conclusion that having the city regulate this industry is no longer necessarily appropriate,” Gordon said.

Cabs got several breaks in the new law. New regulations spearheaded by council member Abdi Warsame allow non-city facilities to inspect vehicles, extends the maximum age of vehicles by five years and gives drivers more parking privileges.

“What we have in front of you is the wish list of the taxi companies,” Warsame said.

Some possibilities there for Houston, perhaps. I certainly hope someone has at least placed a call to the cities with existing ordinances to see how they handled some of the concerns that have arisen.

There’s also the insurance question.

It’s a transportation company that’s growing at record speeds, but some are saying slow down and put on the brakes because when it comes to insurance coverage you may not be safe.

“It does concern us,” said Mark Hanna with the Insurance Council of Texas as he spoke of Uber. “We have 20 different states looking at this and no one really has come up with a solution.”

Uber connects a passenger to a driver via an app on a cell phone. That’s the only way the driver and passenger are supposed to communicate. All fare transactions go through a credit card already on file.

But rivals of Uber, such as local cab companies, say that isn’t always happening and that can put everyone in danger. And that has the insurance industry concerned.

“You’ve got gaps,” said Hanna. “In fact, there may not be any insurance coverage whatsoever.”

According to Uber, unless you go through the app and abide by Uber’s platform, Uber’s insurance policy does not apply.

And according to Hanna most personal insurance policies don’t cover drivers if they charge a fare. And that could leave people exposed.

[…]

And it’s concerns like that that have the Texas insurance industry asking Uber to put on the brakes.

“We’re just asking them to slow down,” said Hanna, “Let us put some mechanism in place that lets us provide coverage for everybody, so everybody is safe.”

Uber declined and on-camera interview, but in a written statement said if a driver is accepting trips through other means that the Uber platform, Uber’s insurance policy does not apply.

Here’s another story about how the insurers in Texas are saying that there’s a gap.

Mark Hanna, a spokesman for the industry group the Insurance Council of Texas, said insurance companies across the U.S. are looking to state regulators and legislatures for guidance as they prepare to offer expanded policies.

“Everyone is trying to come up with a solution,” Hanna said.

California might be the place where model legislation or regulation will be crafted.

Pete Moraga, spokesman for the Insurance Information Network of California, said lawmakers in the California Assembly and state Senate are working on bills, and state insurance regulators are pondering new regulations.

In Texas, insurance regulators haven’t made much progress in dealing with ride-sharing companies.

Texas Department of Insurance spokesman Jerry Hagins said that state law requires auto liability coverage, but it doesn’t distinguish between personal and commercial coverage, and local municipalities must set requirements for insurance for taxis and livery operations.

So far, Austin city officials have deemed Lyft and Uber to be operating as illegal and unpermitted taxis. Officials have gone so far as to impound vehicles and ticket drivers.

Hagins also said that most insurers offering personal auto policies do not rate their policies for commercial uses.

Patti Kelly, a State Farm spokeswoman, confirmed that Uber and Lyft drivers in Texas generally wouldn’t be covered by their personal policies while earning extra money shuttling people around.

Both Uber and Lyft have liability policies that insure drivers who take on passengers under their name. But they are supposed to pick up where personal polices leave off, the companies have said.

Advice from the Texas Department of Insurance echoed the guidance from the Insurance Information Institute: Call your insurance company to confirm you’re covered.

Again, you’d think some progress would have been made on this by now. At the very least, can we get a definitive answer on whether those Uber and Lyft liability policies do in fact pick up where the personal policies leave off? Perhaps the Legislature needs to get involved here.

In any event, that’s the lay of the land as Council prepares to maybe vote on this on Wednesday. Assuming it doesn’t get tagged for a week – I’m not sure if that’s still in play after the current delay – or any further delays are proposed.

Uber’s “safe rides fee”

From Wonkblog on Friday:

Uber is rolling out a $1 surcharge today on all rides offered through its less expensive car-for-hire service UberX. This isn’t the company’s black town car operation, but the down-market version that enables anyone with a spare back seat to give rides to strangers (with smart phones) for money.

The surcharge has an explicit label: It’s a “safe rides fee.” And it mimics a similar $1 line item that competitor Lyft calls a “trust & safety fee.”

So why are your e-hailing receipts growing more complicated? The economics of peer-to-peer transportation services are, too, as companies like Uber and Lyft increasingly fall under the same expectations that govern the heavily regulated taxi industry.

A large part of what’s going on here is that most personal auto insurance policies don’t cover commercial uses of a car (whether you’re using your car to deliver pizzas or people). That means that if you get in a crash while giving someone a ride in your Camry for pay, your regular insurance company probably won’t cover it. So, then, who will?

[…]

Now, as more cities and states look to regulate peer-to-peer transportation providers, these companies will inevitably need to close the liability and safety gaps created when non-professional drivers use their personal cars to make money. They will need to clarify, as Uber has, that commercial insurance covers drivers even in between trips, on the way from one fare to another and when there’s no passenger in the back seat.

I presume this now applies in Houston as well. Has anyone had a ride on Uber since they went rogue and started charging fares?

Meanwhile, some high profile folks in San Antonio are starting a petition drive to get their Council to approve Uber and Lyft.

The 80/20 Foundation, the private foundation of Rackspace Co-founder and Chairman and interim CEO Graham Weston, has launched a petition on Change.org calling for Mayor Julián Castro’s support of rideshare in San Antonio.

“The City of San Antonio should embrace policies in support of entrepreneurship, ridesharing and welcome these apps to San Antonio to combat drunk driving, reduce road congestion, make a positive impact on the environment and improve public safety and transportation options for our community,” states the petition, 775 people have digitally signed it as of 4:23 p.m. Wednesday.

[…]

San Antonio’s City Council Public Safety Committee is set to meet on May 7 to hear the results of McManus’ and his team’s research and inquiry into how to deal with Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) like Lyft and Uber.

It’s possible that accommodating ordinances/regulation could be created as the California Public Utilities Commission did in September 2013 – but it’s also possible that they’ll recommend to limit or outlaw rideshare operations.

They have a copy of the lawsuit that was filed previously. Perhaps this persuasion effort will be somewhat more laid back than the one in Houston was. When is this going to be on Council’s agenda again?

HFD’s budget problems

I’m sure you’ve heard of this by now.

The safety of Houston’s citizens and its firefighters will be compromised over the next four months as the fire department limits the number of personnel on duty and removes trucks from service in an attempt to cut spending, Fire Chief Terry Garrison said Thursday.

“People that are suffering from EMS calls are going to be suffering a little longer, houses and buildings are going to burn a little bit longer, because our response times are going to be increased,” Garrison told members of the City Council’s budget committee. “We’re going to have to change our decision-making model when we get on the scene, because fires will be doubling in size every minute.”

City Councilman Stephen Costello, chairman of the budget committee, rejected Garrison’s bleak prediction.

“I find it hard to believe we’re going to compromise public safety. I really don’t believe that’s the case,” Costello said. “It’s simply a matter of, once we respond to a call, we make sure that we have backup from another station. They do it all the time when they have two- or three-alarm calls.”

City Council members listening to Garrison’s presentation Thursday visibly struggled to balance the two basic priorities of local government: financial responsibility and public safety. Those present voted 7-3 to hold HFD to its original $447 million budget rather than give it additional funding to cover soaring overtime costs. Committee votes are nonbinding but do indicate the will of the larger council.

HFD is on pace to exceed its budget by $10.5 million in the fiscal year that ends June 30. Most of that, $8.5 million, is due to overtime paid to firefighters to cover a staffing shortage exacerbated by a union contract that leaves the chief unable to restrict when firefighters take time off.

The department averaged 90 overtime shifts per day during the second half of last year, and has averaged 47 overtime shifts per day for the last 45 days.

To stay within budget over the remaining four months of the fiscal year, Garrison said, HFD must not average more than 23 overtime shifts per day.

On days the department exceeds that number, fire trucks will be idled and supervisory shifts will not be filled, the chief said.

Under his plan, Garrison said that one in five department engine and ladder trucks could be pulled out of service during the peak vacation months of March and June, and staffing could drop by as much as 10 percent on an average day.

There was an earlier story on this that previewed the problem. The Chron has a dedicated page to the story with a graph showing the various fire stations and what the effect of this would be, with more details here. The committee vote suggests this will pass when it goes before the full Council. Mayor Parker has expressed her support for the plan, saying that the Fire Department managed themselves into this situation and they can manage themselves out of it. It’s hard to read about this issue and not think about the ongoing political and legal battles between Mayor Parker and the firefighters, particularly the pension fund where another lawsuit has been filed over access to their files but also the union, which is now in contract negotiations with the city. I’m sure politics will play a big part in the final Council vote, not to mention in the next election. I am not surprised that CM Bradford, the Mayor’s main critic on Council, is strongly against the proposal to reduce overtime.

I haven’t seen it mentioned in the coverage so far, but this isn’t the first time there has been a shortfall due to overtime. In 2010, both HPD and HFD had multi-million dollar gaps to fill. I’ll be honest, I don’t remember how that was resolved, but I presume it wasn’t like this or we’d have had some recent history to guide us as to what the effect might be.

Something I’d like to know more about is the possible solution CM Costello proposed in a letter to the editor last week.

Eighty-five percent of all calls for HFD services are for emergency medical services, not fires. We have top-notch firefighters, but are we deploying them correctly?

While we must be well prepared for fires too, doesn’t it make more sense to scale our equipment and personnel to fit the needs of our city?

The mayor has stated that we must look at the current workload of the department and reorganize. Her proposed budget last year had $2 million built in for a work demand analysis for HFD so we could start this process. This idea got scrapped during the budget process as council members put this money to other uses, including a summer jobs program.

Why are we organized so heavily around fire equipment and personnel when clearly, more emphasis is needed on emergency medical services? The numbers just don’t support our current operation.

I’ve been told the reason we have more fire engine and ladder companies than ambulances is so we can maintain our No. 1 Insurance Services Office (ISO) rating and keep homeowners’ insurance rates low. ISO is a private, for-profit company which has developed a huge database for providing statistical information to evaluate potential risk in certain areas.

Fire departments often use the structure of the ISO rating to justify resources during the budget process. In 1997, Texas became one of the last states to adopt ISO’s Public Protection Classification System. Texas, while adopting the system, does not require insurance providers to use the ISO rating, allowing some companies to use their own data. State Farm, the nation’s largest insurance company was the first to stop using the ISO rating system in 2001. Instead of using theoretical data loss, State Farm looks at actual loss within a zip code.

I’m not sure how dependent we need to be on the No. 1 ISO rating. Research indicates that now ISO ratings might have very little effect on homeowners’ insurance rates since some insurance companies do not even rely on them. I’m not suggesting we lower standards in any way when it comes to protecting our citizens. I just want to make sure we are smart about allocating all of our HFD resources, including overtime.

We need to make sure our fire and emergency service delivery model makes sense for Houston in 2014 and adjust accordingly. Until then, budget shortfalls will surely continue.

The point about EMS versus fire services is a strong one, and given that this kind of shortfall is not unprecedented, it makes sense to me that the city ought to do that study CM Costello suggests. Maybe with a more efficient allocation of resources, we can then get serious about hiring more firefighters and EMTs, since as with HPD there is a looming retirement crisis among the current ranks. I’d like to see that work demand analysis get funded in the next budget. Anyone with more expertise in these matters want to comment about that?

Uber and insurance

Fascinating.

Shortly before midnight on a Tuesday night in March, a black Lincoln Town Car was heading south on Divisadero Street in San Francisco at the same time a Dodge Charger was approaching from the opposite direction. The accident that occurred next is a fairly common one: the Town Car was preparing for a left-hand turn as the Charger neared the intersection. The two cars collided along their front driver’s side bumpers (at varying speeds, depending on who’s doing the telling in the police report).

The next couple of moments are the weird ones. The Charger then careened through the intersection, sheared a fire hydrant off the ground, knocked over a tree and barreled into another one. A five-story tall geyser erupted from the corner as the hydrant flew up the sidewalk and struck a pedestrian. When police arrived, it was found lying 81 feet away.

As you might imagine, the front of the Dodge was badly damaged. The driver is now suing the driver of the Town Car, a vehicle with livery plates operated under the company SF Limo Car Service. The pedestrian, who broke her leg and injured her back, is suing both drivers. She is also suing – and this is what makes this crash particularly interesting – the transportation-tech company Uber.

[…]

The whole chain of liability is a mess: A pedestrian was struck by a fire hydrant that was struck by a private vehicle that was struck by a Town Car whose driver had a contract with Uber – but no actual Uber passenger in the back seat. But the terribly fluky accident raises some more straight-forward questions, too: Just what does happen if you’re an Uber passenger in the middle of an accident, or the driver behind the wheel of someone else’s car on RelayRides, or the passenger who’s riding along during a collision on Lyft? Who will take care of you?

See here for my previous Uber blogging. Read the whole Atlantic Cities story, it’s worth your time. Locally, the cab companies in Houston have raised the insurance issue as the debate over Uber continues. Uber for its part maintains that it only contracts with licensed drivers that have their own insurance, so these questions should not involve them. As the story notes, however, Uber’s app puts Uber branding on the cars and drivers, so the matter is more complicated than that. I’ll be very interested to see how the litigation goes.

On a completely tangential matter, the North Central Texas Council of Governments is embarking on a discussion about Uber and other new transportation-enabling technology services like Lyft, and how to deal with their local cab codes to accommodate them (or not). As with the lawsuit above, it will be very interesting to see how that shakes out.

There will be an app for your auto insurance

Do you frequently forget to put your proof of insurance in your car and/or your wallet? The Lege has provided a solution for you.

Thanks to a law passed during the 83rd legislative session, motorists will be able to pull up proof of insurance on their phones to show officers.

Lawmakers and insurance industry professionals say that Senate Bill 181 helps Texas keep up with the times.

“This bill just seemed like the common-sense thing to do,” said state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, who co-authored the legislation. “It came to us through a recommendation and provided an opportunity to make use of technology to make life a little simpler for many Texas motorists.”

Traffic stops will occur the same as before, but instead of the driver handing the officer a paper copy of the insurance card, the officer can note the pertinent data off of the mobile device.

[…]

The impact of the new law on Texas drivers and law enforcement is convenience and efficiency, said Beaman Floyd, executive director of the Coalition for Affordable Insurance Solutions.

“If you are involved in a traffic stop, then you are going to be able to demonstrate what you are going to need to demonstrate faster,” Floyd said. “And that means that for law enforcement officers, it’s less time standing out there by the side of the road while you are searching through your glove box.”

Concerns were raised about the ease of counterfeiting an electronic insurance card, but it is just as easy to forge a paper copy, Floyd said.

Whether the insurance is presented on paper or electronically, the officer takes the information and runs it through a verification database.

“If somebody actually tried to counterfeit an electronic proof of insurance, they will be subject to that verification and they will still be caught,” Floyd said.

I wrote about this during the session when there were a couple of House bills to accomplish this working their way through the system. I lost track of it from there, thanks in part I’m sure to some of the more distracting issues that came up, so I’m glad to hear that a version of this passed. Speaking as someone who is one of those people that loses track of his proof of insurance card, I’ll be downloading an app for my smartphone as soon as I hear one is available from my insurance company.

Now there will be an app for your auto insurance

Good.

Legislation allowing Texas drivers to prove their insurance coverage with a wireless communications device is on its way to the governor after winning final approval from the Senate on Thursday. The measure by Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, would bring Texas in line with six other states that already enable drivers to prove insurance coverage with a smart phone or wireless device. Another 21 states also are considering such a change.

Hegar said his bill allowing cell phone insurance verification “is just another step into the 21st century for Texans” and mirrors the growing use of cell phones for a variety of purposes other than phone calls. For several years,Texas drivers have had to carry an insurance ID in their vehicles, or risk being ticketed and paying a fine if stopped by a police officer. Failure to comply with the law can eventually lead to revocation of a drivers license.

The bill in question is SB181. When I wrote about this before, the story was about a couple of House bills that did the same thing; in the end, one of the authors of a House bill, Rep. Ryan Guillen, was a sponsor of Sen. Hegar’s bill. Several insurance companies already offer such apps since this is legal in some other states, and others are sure to follow. I’m not a big phone app person, but I am a person who often forgets to put his insurance card in his car, so this will be one for me to download.

There oughta be an app for your auto insurance

This is a no-brainer.

Digging through a cluttered glove compartment to find proof of insurance while a police officer waits may soon be an antiquated frustration in Texas.

Lawmakers are considering bills that would allow drivers in the state to prove financial responsibility using a paperless method — their smartphones. Multiple versions of the bill have been filed including HB 239, authored by state Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, and HB 336, authored by state Rep. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio.

The measure would allow flexibility and convenience for both consumers and peace officers but would be optional, said Guillen.

“This change would put Texas on the cutting edge,” he said.

State Rep. Gary Elkins, who chairs the House technology committee, said the state should go one step further and include proof of state registration and inspection.

[…]

Guillen also said the bill bans law enforcement agents from searching any other location on the phone and holds wireless carriers harmless of wrongdoing or failure to show proof.

Gotta say, I’m not always so good about remembering to put one of those pieces of paper in my wallet and/or my glove compartment. I’d be all over this if it were an option. Given all the other formerly printed things that you can now carry on your smartphone – boarding passes, event tickets, and so forth – I can’t think of a good reason not to allow this. Please make this happen, OK? Thanks.

On paying for insurance at the pump

The Dallas Transportation blog comes out in favor of an old favorite.

Our newspaper ran an editorial today about fighting the problem of uninsured motorists, those miserable characters who have complicated many of our lives. The news peg was a story by DMN Austin correspondent Terry Stutz on the latest scofflaw figures.

Here’s what the editorial didn’t mention as a possible solution: Putting a surcharge on the price of gasoline as a way to guarantee liability coverage. That way, everyone would pay into a liability pool and it would be impossible for any driver to duck the cost the rest of us must bear.

[…]

Paying at the pump would establish a liability pool so we could lower our costs of uninsured motorist coverage, presumably. Those of us who wanted, could go into the market and buy added coverage against theft and collision and higher coverage limits.

Paying an insurance surcharge at the pump could also lead to a fairer way of charging people for coverage — those who drive more would pay more, and Grandma would pay less if her driving consists mostly of short hops to the grocery store and church. The LA Times writes that kind of coverage is available in a few dozen states now. I didn’t know that.

Scott Henson at Grits for Breakfast has been writing about the pay-at-the-pump approach for awhile. I agree with him that it would be a long shot to get through the Legislature. The current price structure clearly works for insurance companies now, and from their point of view, why change it?

I’ve not written about this as often as Grits, but I’ve been in favor of this idea for some time. In contemplating it now, I can think of one objection, which is that there isn’t necessarily a tight correlation between how much gas you buy and how much you drive. How would you fairly charge owners of electric and hybrid cars for this? Yes, there are public car-charging stations now, and surely those could be adjusted to add in an insurance surcharge, but people can also charge their cars at home. You could add a fee to their vehicle registrations, but to say the least that would be a blunt instrument. Certainly, any connection between how much they drive and how much they are charged for insurance would be lost. And as the new fuel efficiency standards are phased in, there will be more and more serious disparities between different drivers and the amount of gas they buy. There may be some way of dealing with this, but I can’t say I’ve seen it discussed anywhere. I still support the idea, but this does need to be addressed.

Texas Watch poll: Perry by 1

We have some new polling data to play with.

A statewide public opinion survey conducted by Republican polling firm Hill Research Consultants on behalf of the Texas Watch Foundation reveals an electorate divided between incumbent Republican Governor Rick Perry (42%) and Democratic challenger Bill White (41%), with a significant bloc of voters (14%) still uncommitted to either candidate. Additionally, across partisan, ideological and geographic lines, broad support is expressed for homeowners’ insurance reform proposals.

You can see full crosstabs here. The main point I’d highlight is the partisan breakdown on page 8. White is doing better among Democrats (79-11) than Perry is among Republicans (74-15), and while he trails slightly among independents (37-33) there are a lot of undecideds there. If he can convert the bulk of these undecideds to his side, that’s his path to victory. I believe Perry has a fair amount of soft support, which becomes evident in polls like this that have a greater proportion of undecided voters. The difference between this poll, or a poll like the earlier PPP result that showed a dead heat, and the Rasmussen results we usually see is almost entirely the level of support that Perry gets. I think there’s a significant chunk of the electorate that’s willing to fire Perry but isn’t sold on White, and until that sale gets closed will most likely stick with the devil they know.

As for how to make that sale, that’s what the rest of the poll was about, testing opinions on the insurance reforms that White proposed recently. The bottom line is that they poll well across all groups, and supporting these ideas would be in either candidates’ best interests, both with their own bases and with the undecideds. While it’s true if you accept this poll that Perry would do well to embrace the reforms that Texas Watch advocates, there are two good reasons why he won’t. One is because White was there first, and there’s no way Perry does anything that makes him look like he’s following White’s lead. And two, not to put too fine a point on it but Perry doesn’t agree with the proposed reforms. Far as he’s concerned, whatever the problem is, it’s a job for the Free Market Fairy, and any government regulation would just constitute interference with that. As such, I consider this to be an opening for White to woo some of those undecideds. He’ll have the issue to himself if he pursues it.

Finally, according to the Chron, there was another poll out there as well:

The other poll, commissioned by Democratic philanthropist Bernard Rappaport, had Perry leading 44.4 percent to White’s 40.6 percent, a slight lead for the governor.

[…]

The Rappaport survey of 803 likely voters was conducted Aug. 24-28 by Zogby International and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

The Zogby survey also asked voters whether Perry deserves to be re-elected or is it time for somebody new. Fifty-one percent said it is time for someone new, including 77 percent of the Democrats and half of the independents.

Again, the main difference between this and the Rasmussen polls is what Perry gets. With PPP coming to town soon, we’ll see if that trend continues.

Homeowners insurance

An awful lot of attention gets paid to property taxes and the rate at which they rise due to higher appraisals. There are other variable costs to home ownership, however, and one of them is homeowners insurance.

As a result of a dramatic increase in mold claims prior to 2003, homeowner insurance rates were pushed to record heights. In response, legislators in the 78th Legislature passed SB 14, which, among other things, moved Texas to a “file and use” system.

Previously, rates were established by the Commissioner of the Texas Department of Insurance, and companies had to petition the department for approval to raise their rates above the established level. However, a loophole allowed most companies to shift their policies outside of the regulations, meaning consumers still saw high premiums.

The “file and use” system passed in 2003 did little to alleviate the problem. Under the new system, insurance companies were simply required to inform the department of a rate change before they implemented it. The department had no mechanism to regulate insurance companies as they implemented premium rates.

Texas homeowners have failed to see any significant relief from the rates that were in place prior to 2003.

And that’s without taking into account utility rates and flood/windstorm insurance for those who need it, which have also been rapidly rising. Sure would be nice to see some of this addressed in the next legislative session, wouldn’t it? Having a Governor that cares about the issue would help, too. EoW and BOR have more.

Windstorm insurance changes

If you live near the coast, get ready to pay more for windstorm insurance.

Coastal residents insured by the state windstorm fund could see increases of 5 percent per year for the next three years under a bill passed Thursday by the Senate.

The vote to send the bill to the House was 27-4. One senator who voted against it said the rate increases are still too much for residents rebuilding from Hurricane Ike.

“I was very concerned about the impact the bill would have on the coastal communities. They’ve been hit hard and many are struggling to recover,” said Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston.

But the bill author, Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, said the Legislature has to do something to build up the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, which was depleted by Hurricanes Ike and Dolly last year.

“Currently, TWIA has $68 billion in coverage written along the entire Texas coast and there is zero money in the reserve fund. This exposure is rapidly expanding as more residents and businesses seek windstorm coverage from TWIA,” Fraser said.

TWIA provides coverage to homeowners and businesses in 14 coastal counties and a part of Harris County who can’t find it elsewhere.

I can appreciate Sen. Huffman’s concern, but I can also imagine how her vote might have gone had this not directly affected her constituents. I mean, it’s ultimately the taxpayers who are subsidizing the TWIA. Shouldn’t those who choose to live along the coast pay a bigger share of that cost? All a matter of perspective, I suppose. Burkablog and Postcards have more.