Moderated by Tom Sabulis
House Bill 907 did not make it over to the Senate on Crossover Day last week, so legislation to regulate “rideshare” car services such as Uber is stalled. But the debate continues. Should Uber be regulated? Should taxis be de-regulated? Or both? Here are columns from an Uber user – and driver – and cab operator.
Comenting is open.
By Scott McCandliss
Because House Bill 907 is no longer active, Uber’s unregulated and irresponsible taxi service will continue to operate throughout Atlanta — thumbing its nose at the city’s longstanding public safety requirements for taxis.
There have been a number of articles in the media recently regarding the so-called “new ideas” in personal transportation. Unfortunately, most contain as much misinformation as information.
The word “taxicab” comes from “taximeter,” not the other way around as many think. Taxicabs diverged from livery cabs after they began using taximeters. Livery cars, which include for-hire limousines and sedans, must be prearranged precisely because they don’t use meters, so the price must be determined in advance of the trip. Taximeters allow the price is finalized at the end of the trip — which, in turn, allows taxicabs to be spontaneous.
The use of taximeters sparked the need for regulation. Taxicabs are required to display the meter price, vehicle and company identification and contact phone number on both sides of the vehicle to protect the public and the consumer. They are required to display a top sign, usually marked “Taxi,” to announce that it’s a public vehicle for hire, in order to prevent discrimination. They must carry special, expensive, vehicle-for-hire insurance, and be regularly inspected to protect public safety. They also must display the driver’s permit and the taximeter in plain sight to protect the consumer.
Since each city has different needs, taxicabs are regulated at the local level, requiring a separate permit for each jurisdiction in which they operate. Enter Uber and Lyft, who adamantly refuse to admit they are taxis. I was told recently by a senior policy adviser to the mayor that the city has no authority over Uber and Lyft because they aren’t taxicabs. I vehemently disagree. They are taxicabs because they use meters (albeit through an app whose algorithm calculations remain a closely guarded secret).
People often complain that some taxicabs don’t take credit cards. But Uber and Lyft don’t take cash. Uber and Lyft discriminate against poor people who have neither a credit card nor a smartphone. They also discriminate against people with disabilities, since they don’t offer wheelchair-accessible vehicles.
The bottom line is that anything with a meter is a taxicab. It isn’t that the rules don’t apply to outfits like Uber and Lyft; it’s simply that these outfits brazenly break the rules.
My regulatory compliance costs are over $20,000 per year. Theirs are zero, because they simply ignore the regulations they don’t like. In that light, these outfits are not earning their market share; they are stealing it.
These companies are more than just an app. They are taxi companies. As such, they should be held to the same regulatory and safety standards as the rest of us in the taxi industry.
Scott McCandliss is a driver for Buckhead Safety Cab in Atlanta.
By A. Jarrod Jenkins
Two weeks ago, New York City auctioned taxi medallions for the first time in six years. The 297 winning bids ranged from $805,201 to $965,000.
Similar to New York City, Atlanta has withheld the release of its remaining medallions out of concern for an overabundance of taxis. If you have ever tried to catch a cab in Atlanta, you would realize the irony of that reasoning.
Uber and Lyft utilize smartphones to make the pickup process faster. Uber contracts with both commercially licensed drivers and non-commercial drivers (including myself) to transport its users, while Lyft, the company with the iconic pink mustache displayed on the grille of its drivers’ cars, relies entirely on non-commercial drivers.
Of course, the taxi lobby is not too thrilled about Uber and Lyft’s meteoric rise. Taxi lobbies across the country, including Georgia, have decided a) they can beat Uber and Lyft and/or b) they cannot beat Uber and Lyft, but will fight them anyway.
Their first attempt to stop Uber and Lyft in Georgia was House Bill 907, which sought to regulate “transportation referral service providers.” Although the bill did not pass out of the House on Crossover Day last week, HB 907 won’t be the lobby’s last attempt to stop Uber and Lyft.
To clarify, “taxi lobby” means taxi companies, not drivers. Taxi drivers do not want to pay $65,000 — apparently the going rate in Atlanta — for a medallion.
I understand the frustration from taxi companies. Rick Hewatt is a third-generation CEO of Atlanta Checker Cab. But his anger, voiced previously on the AJC opinion page, is highly misplaced. Using a transportation referral service provider is no different from using Facebook to find a ride home during Atlanta’s snowpocalypse. Certainly, Facebook users do not need a medallion to pick up someone with his or her consent.
I have served as both an Uber passenger and driver, so I know the argument that transportation referral service providers are unsafe is ill-conceived. In addition to background checks, these companies have a rating system that holds passengers and drivers accountable. Further, Uber and Lyft passengers have the name and mobile phone number of their driver, and vice versa. Consequently, there is greater incentive for driver/passenger interaction. My first passenger? The daughter of a state legislator.
Legislation such as HB 907 is counterproductive to Georgia’s rise as a hub for transportation reform. In addition to Georgia being fourth in electric-vehicle adoption, Atlanta is home to AT&T’s Drive Studio for connected car research and Panasonic’s Innovation Center.
Let’s face it: Uber and Lyft are here to stay. Rather than inhibiting people’s ability to make money on the side or receive efficient, safe transportation, taxi companies should focus on repealing laws that require costly medallions if they want any chance at survival.
A. Jarrod Jenkins is an Atlanta lawyer.