Uber and Lyft representatives are cautiously optimistic about what will come out of the small group of City officials that continue to work on a rideshare ordinance that softens the regulatory blow to rideshare companies and their drivers. The revised ordinance is expected to be discussed in a closed, executive session after Wednesday’s B Session. It could come before the council for a vote as early as Thursday, Feb. 26.
Councilmember Roberto Treviño (D1) also sounds optimistic that a regulatory compromise can be reached before the ordinance approved by City Council in December goes into effect on March 1.
“The conversation has been very positive,” Treviño said. “The tone is one of collaboration.”
Rideshare companies object to the insurance terms imposed on them versus levels paid by taxi company owners. Yet there are other less publicized issues with the ordinance, ranging from the requirement that drivers have fire-extinguisher to submitting to a drug test – as taxi drivers do. Secondary issues could lead both companies to pull out of San Antonio.
(Read more: City Crafting Alternative Rideshare Ordinance.)
“We’re certainly looking at this thing comprehensively,” Treviño said. “(Rideshare is) a new business model, we have to be aware of new mechanics of that business model and not create regulations that don’t fit or understand innovation.”
Click here to download a document outlining what language Lyft would like to see changed in the current ordinance.
“We are also deeply concerned about the entire driver on-boarding process that is created through this ordinance – the fingerprint, drug test, fire extinguisher, fees and ASE mechanic inspection requirements,” stated Lyft Public Policy Manager April Mims in an email. “Safety is Lyft’s top priority, but a taxi ordinance, which is what San Antonio passed, is not the way to regulate transportation network (rideshare) companies. Cities like Austin, Dallas, Cincinnati and Tulsa have demonstrated how to ensure public safety and welcome new transportation platforms.”
The approved ordinance requires transportation network companies (TNCs) like Lyft and Uber to have $1 million insurance policies per vehicle for passenger injury – an amount they were providing before the ordinance was passed. Traditional taxi companies like Yellow Cab only need $30,000 policies. The ordinance also requires TNCs to cover insurance even when drivers have not accepted a fare or picked up a driver, which TNCs cite as unnecessary.
NOWCastSA has produced a comparison charts for different vehicles for hire, providing a side-by-side look at insurance and other requirements:
Mayor Ivy Taylor has said she is open to review of the rideshare ordinance, including its insurance provisions. A group of local attorneys have been considering a legal challenge to the ordinance, citing tougher insurance demands on rideshare than taxis.
Treviño said the existing vehicle for hire ordinance in general and how it pertains to traditional taxi and limousine companies should get a fresh look, too.
“We need to obviously always revisit our regulations and make sure that they fit the time we live in,” he said.
The fees, redundant background and safety checks, and data privacy are among the issues concerning Uber Texas General Manager Chris Nakutis.
“We’re very strong on data privacy,” Nakutis said. “(And) the City is asking for all of our data, just for the sake of ‘we want it.’ ”
Uber isn’t opposed to sharing its data, but under limited terms, he said, pointing to its data partnership with the City of Boston, an arrangement that has been “helping that city to better understand transportation in their city.”
Uber recently announced it will give Boston dates and times of trips, zip codes for pickups and dropoffs, distance traveled and the trip’s duration. Boston will use the information to inform everything from traffic planning to zoning changes to available parking spots. This data will be anonymous in terms of who is driving and who is riding.
“(The City of) San Antonio is asking for (information) at a very scary level,” he said. “Pick up location, drivers’ and riders’ personal information … things we couldn’t protect form FOIA (Freedom of Information requests) once the City has it.”
This kind of data mining could be an unintended consequence of the wording of the ordinance, with Council members not necessarily understanding the implications.
Data requests aside, at the end of the day, Nakutis said, “The City is taking taxi-type regulations and pushing them onto a different type of industry.”
The move to soften the ordinance even before it takes effect comes after weeks of building public protest over the Council’s December vote and, in the preceding months, widespread disapproval among rideshare users of how Uber and Lyft and their drivers were treated by city government.
Recently retired Police Chief William McManus was the driving force behind the move last year to tightly regulate Uber and Lyft, branding the services and their independent drivers as lawbreakers. The public, on the other hand, embraced rideshare companies as a welcome transportation option, one that employs smart phone apps to put affordable ride service at the fingertips of customers. Many users cite it as the most effective tool available to combat drunk driving.
Taking this new mode of transportation away after months of use by riders and drivers would be a shock to the system.
“The City Council has kept an anti-innovation ordinance at the cost of thousands of part-time jobs across san Antonio,” Nakutis said, also citing the more than 40,000 Uber trips made in January alone. “It’s a small segment (of drivers), 8% , that are full-time … (for many part-time drivers) it means paying a mortgage on time, it’s an extra uniform for your daughter’s school.”
*Featured/top image: Rideshare advocates stand in support of Lyft and Uber during a City Council meeting that resulted in approval of strict rideshare regulation in December 2014 that will take effect March 1, 2015. Photo by Iris Dimmick.