City Council members on the Transportation Committee voted 4-1 Thursday night to have the full Council decide on changes to the City’s vehicle for hire policy. The contentious recommendations are to create permits for owner-operated taxis and remove the current cap on taxi permits.

The City staff recommendations seek to curb the continued decline in use of taxi services that began when ride share companies such as Uber and Lyft, which have no permit or driver cap, entered the market.

Taxi company representatives said lifting the cap would send the already struggling industry into chaos by flooding the market with additional cabs, while some individual drivers argued that having their own permits would be more affordable for them. If the City allowed owner-operated taxis to get permits, they would no longer have to lease them from the companies. They would, however, be responsible for vehicle maintenance and compliance with other regulations.

Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4) said it wasn’t ideal to bring the issue to a full Council vote, but wanted to see some movement take place on a long-debated subject. Council members agreed that, ideally, taxi companies, drivers, and City staff will find a compromise before the Council vote.

Councilman Manny Peláez (D8)
Councilman Manny Peláez (D8) Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

“My job is not to un-disrupt an industry,” said Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8). “We are slowly watching your industry drop dead, and it’s a very slow, sad train crash. It’s ugly, I hate to tell ya.”

There are currently 886 taxi cab permits issued by the City. Deputy City Manager Erik Walsh said the City could start adding more permits and monitoring the industry results.

That data could inform whether the new policy is working, he said.

The policy changes were considered by Council’s Public Safety Committee meeting in September. At the time, the committee voted to send the issue back to staff so that they could present more detailed and comprehensive findings.

Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6), who cast the dissenting vote, said he would rather see a pilot program to see what would happen if owner-operated permits were added to the market. He called for the full council to be briefed before being asked to vote.

Though she voted in favor of skipping such a session, Councilwoman Ana Sandoval agreed that the presentation on Thursday was not as detailed as she expected.

“I don’t feel like we’ve come very far since the discussion at public safety,” Sandoval said.

Sandoval said the Council’s priority should be to ensure the safety of drivers and riders, not make sure the industry thrives.

Jeffrey Sullivan is a Rivard Report reporter. He graduated from Trinity University with a degree in Political Science.