Moderated by Tom Sabulis
In the name of public safety, according to its sponsors, House Bill 907 in the General Assembly aims to regulate “transportation referral” car services such as Uber and Lyft, which use smartphone app technology to attract customers. Local cab companies support the legislation, saying it forces these new competitors go through the same permitting process, and red tape, as them. I spoke with the CEO of an Atlanta cab company for today’s column, while a local Uber manager gives that service’s side of the story.
Commenting is open.
By Tom Sabulis
As a third-generation cab company operator, Rick Hewatt of Atlanta Checker Cab spoke last week about a bill pending in the Gerogia Assembly that would regulate Smartphone app-driven car services such as Uber and Lyft:
On the new competition: I’ve worked here 30 years and I’ve seen competition come and go. By far this has been the most aggressive competition. Most other competition has followed the rules. But they just decided, no, we’re going to categorize ourselves as a technology company and not a transportation company; we don’t have to follow any rules based on that. They can say they’re a technology company but look at their advertising: They’re directly advertising as a taxi. What they’ve done from day one has been deceiving. Their goal is to disrupt this market. And they’re doing a good job at it. They’re a company that, by design, is out to disrupt our industry and steal as much as they can from it without following any rules and regulations. That’s their model.
On Uber and Lyft being “rideshare” businesses: They’re not a rideshare, they’re a taxi cab, that’s really what they are. They solicit for business. They dispatch the call. They charge based on time and mileage, just like we do. They can make all the claims they want but they’re glorified taxi cabs at best.
On how cab companies got the state to push legislation: We talked with (Rep.) Alan Powell and said something bad is going to happen. We don’t believe those companies have the proper insurance in place. We’re checked for those things; they are not. We do background checks on our independent contractors with fingerprinting. Thos other companies say, trust us. We’re doing a background check. But if they don’t fingerprint drivers, they didn’t do a proper background check.
On whether cabs are regulated too much: Maybe they are, but right now those are the laws that are on the books.
On what taxi regulations he would junk if he could: I would do away with flat rates. The pure definition of a taxi cab is a metered ride and that meter is calibrated to charge so much an hour and so much per mile. What the city did, based on the business community wanting this, was that they flat-rated certain areas, from the airport to downtown, airport to Midtown. Those flat rates have always caused confusion and trouble for us. I would certainly change that.
On the biggest complaint Atlanta taxis get: I think drivers not being willing to take their credit cards (but many do). All those drivers are independent contractors. The city doesn’t require that they take credit cards at this point. A driver could say a ride is cash-only, because they’re independent contractors. We can’t control the means, the manner or the method in which they operate. We’ve been working with the mayor’s office for the last two years to try and change some of these things. We’ve been working with the city council for almost seven years to try and get some reform. It keeps getting put off for whatever reason.
On misperceptions of the local cab industry: I think a lot of people are misinformed that we’re some sort of monopoly and this is a desperate grab to protect it. It’s really not that. Me, Checker Cab, having 140 permits out of 1,600 certainly is no monopoly. Secondly, we’re hardworking businessmen. You don’t stay in business 67 years by mistreating people. We’ve been doing something right. And I think we do a lot right. Ninety percent of our customers we pick up in 15 minutes or less.
On the chances of HB907 getting passed: You know I think it’s a starting point. I think it will morph into something else, which is fine. I think Uber and Lyft have a lot of money to burn. I think you’ll see it gives them unprecedented capability of lobbying and advertising. Plus it’s a false economy. They’ve got these millions of dollars people have invested in them, so they can deflate the market with that money until everybody goes out of business and then come back and charge whatever they want. I think there’s 101 questions that can be asked about why were they allowed to come in without anything and just start operating. We couldn’t do that in the cab business. I truly feel that the bill is trying to level the playing field and trying to address some public safety issues. It doesn’t prevent them from operating. But thus far they’ve just run amuck, without anybody challenging them.
By Keith Radford
Atlanta is known for its hospitality, accommodating weather and love of innovation. It’s also home to some of the world’s largest Fortune 500 companies including Coca-Cola and Delta, making it a Southern city with a uniquely global reach. Yet Atlanta has become handcuffed by limited transportation alternatives. Traffic is a near constant reality, drunk driving is an ever-present threat, and paying for parking in Midtown is a tremendous chore. As a native Atlantan, I know how critical services like Uber are in solving the city’s large and growing transportation challenges.
However, some opponents of consumer choice would prefer to go back to the old way of doing things. The recently proposed House Bill 907, introduced by Rep. Alan Powell, R-Hartwell, stands in stark contrast to the technological innovation and progressive culture of this city. HB 907 would place restrictive regulations on apps like Uber that would make it nearly impossible for consumers to be able to rely on us for reliable, efficient transportation options. At the same time, it would limit the economic opportunity Uber provides to commercial and ridesharing driver partners alike. In the two weeks since he introduced the bill, Powell has lost two co-sponsors and has received an outcry of opposition, making crystal clear this bill isn’t right for Georgia.
Before Uber, getting a cab from Sandy Springs to Midtown meant a phone call followed by a potential 30-minute wait, and then you were lucky if the taxi took your credit card. Uber has turned that 30-minute wait into 5 minutes, added more transparency, and has made the need for cash obsolete.
Unfortunately, the people who want to go back to the old way of doing things aren’t just limited to the statehouse. As a recent report revealed, officials with the city of Atlanta have been meeting with owners of big taxi companies — on city property — to find ways to drive Uber out of town. That doesn’t seem like the forward-looking, innovative approach Atlanta is known for taking.
Uber partners with local transportation businesses to offer a safe, transparent and reliable ride — an option that did not exist before Uber. For our hallmark UberBLACK service, that means we are working with Atlanta’s best commercially licensed and insured transportation providers to deliver your stylish, luxury ride. UberX with ridesharing is the lowest-cost transportation option in Atlanta. Every uberX partner completes a stringent background and driving record check — more rigorous than what the state requires for commercial licensing. Every uberX trip is also insured under our corporate liability policy in the event of an accident, up to $1 million per incident. Riders also provide feedback on every trip as part of a 24/7 feedback system.
That unprecedented level of safety, transparency and accountability is entirely absent in the highly protected taxi industry, which has chosen not to improve customer service, safety and technology in decades. HB 907 puts forth archaic regulations that don’t reflect modern technology, seek to limit competition and ignore popular demand for services like Uber.
Atlantans want transportation options that are on par with the future of our amazing city. These options are good for consumers, who gain access to safe, affordable transportation alternatives; and drivers, who gain opportunities to make a sustainable living and grow businesses. Riders and drivers alike are demanding these alternatives. The future is not in anti-consumer legislation, but in the voice of Atlanta residents who want more options for convenient and hassle-free transportation.
Keith Radford is general manager of Uber Atlanta.