The City’s Transportation Advisory Board (TAB) met Tuesday afternoon to consider changes to Chapter 33 of the City code, which regulates vehicles for hire. The regulations approved by the committee more closely align taxi regulations to those that govern rideshares.

Attending the meeting were taxi drivers, limousine drivers, taxi cab company owners, and rideshare drivers.

The TAB voted to recommend approval to City Council of all of the proposed changes to Chapter 33, which include but are not limited to:

  • lessening restrictions on providing proof of tax payments
  • removing driver appearance standards
  • removing requirements for taxi drivers to distribute city information
  • removing requirements for permit holders to provide preprinted manifests for each driver
  • removing the penalty for refusal to supply maintenance documents
  • removing sanitary condition requirements

While the board moved swiftly on approving the changes, the meeting was tense at times during the Citizens to be Heard portion, where both rideshare drivers and taxi drivers made their case for their respective businesses, occasionally getting into arguments. And while the committee stressed several times that the meeting was not concerning rideshare companies, that is what every citizen spoke on.

Carol Fisher, owner of 711 Cabs, said that despite the low number of criminal incidents in rideshare in San Antonio, there may be more unreported cases.

Uber driver Harriet Smith speaks about taking a background test. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.
Uber driver Harriet Smith speaks about taking a background test. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.

“It’s happening locally. We are sacrificing young women and tourists,” Fisher said.

She added that the drivers of traditional taxi cabs have been relegated to second-class citizens.

“Uber is a company worth $65 billion. We’re 23 small businesses,” she said. “We ask you to vote for this package and allow us to pick up the crumbs of our industry, which has been decimated.”

When Fisher accused Uber drivers of lying to their insurance companies in order to drive, a rideshare driver interrupted her, accusing her of lying.

Hector Garcia, a taxi driver, said that the changes to the regulations put forward do not satisfy all taxi drivers, and accused the members of the board who represent the taxi industry of not representing all drivers.

“Taxi drivers have the right to select who to choose to represent them, not (taxi industry representatives) George Alva, Robert Gonzales, or Alan Goodman,” Garcia said. “These people don’t represent drivers, they represent their companies and their interests.”

Speaking in favor of rideshare companies, Uber driver Robin Lyerla said that working for Uber has allowed her to easily return to work as a disabled veteran and a 12-year stay at home mom.

“After my daughter became old enough to be on her own more, I wanted to get back into the workforce,” Lyerla explained. “It has been very difficult to do that. Uber has given me the freedom to work again, raise extra money for my family, pay down some debt, and be there for my daughter when she gets out of school.”

Transportation Safety Coalition member and National Cab Owner Robert Gonzales looks over to the taxi driver members. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.
Transportation Safety Coalition member and National Cab Owner Robert Gonzales looks over to the taxi driver members. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.

A letter sent from Noel Jones, director of the Aviation Department for the City of San Antonio, warned taxi drivers that a protest that took place on the premises on Sept. 27 was held without obtaining a permit at least two days prior from the airport, thus violating municipal code.

“This was disruptive to our airport operations and distracting for our customers,” Jones stated in the letter. “Violations of rules and regulations could result in suspension and revocation of permits to conduct activities at the airport and may result in the immediate termination of the City of San Antonio vehicle for hire permit.”

After the meeting, when questioned by the Rivard Report on the apparent infighting in the taxi industry concerning regulations, Committee member and taxi advocate Robert Gonzales said that the disagreement was mainly about permits.

“Everybody always wants more permits. But everything has its time,” Gonzales said. “I’m 100% for the drivers getting ahead.”

He added that the existing changes that the committee will recommend to City Council satisfy enough drivers.

“We just need a level playing field,” he explained. “And how can we say there’s a level playing field when Uber and Lyft have next to no regulation and unlimited amount of vehicles?”

The changes will be recommended to City Council for final approval.

 Top image: Taxi drivers hold up signs at a Transportation Advisory Board Council meeting.  Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.

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James McCandless

Former intern James McCandless is a recent St. Mary's University graduate. He has worked with the San Antonio Current and Texas Public Radio.