Thursday, January 23, 2014
No resolutions reached in City Hall discussion between Yellow Cab, Lyft and Uber
Mayor Mike Rawlings missed the meeting; so too did new city manager A.C. Gonzalez.
Ultimately, Tuesday evening’s long-anticipated Yellow Cab vs. Uber and Lyft showdown at Dallas City Hall wasn’t much of one. No resolutions were reached; no votes were taken. It was, in the words of council member and Transportation and Trinity River Project Committee chair Vonciel Jones Hill, just a “listening session, not a decision session.” The decision session likely comes Monday, at the third transportation-for-hire briefing — the last one scheduled, but by no means The Final Word on the subject.
If there was any news of note to come out of council chambers Tuesday, where Yellow Cab’s owner spoke and Lyft and Uber reps flew in from the West Coast to make their cases before the public took its turn at the mic, it’s that most of the Dallas City Council members let slip their stances on how the city could or should regulate transportation-for-hire services. That refers to both the incumbent cab services that more or less wrote the rules more than a decade ago, and the upstart newcomers who claim they’re tech companies merely offering fun-clean-safe-etc. alternatives to the dingy same ol’ same ol’.
Mayor Mike Rawlings, in D.C. for the 82nd Conference of Mayors Winter Meeting, skipped the meeting; so too did new city manager A.C. Gonzalez, who kickstarted this dust-up in August when he tried to run Uber off the road at Yellow Cab’s request till his consent-agenda item was kicked to the curb by the mayor. Jerry Allen was the only council member not in attendance.
Most of his colleagues spoke in vague terms about some kind of a rules rewrite that takes into account the safety of passengers catching rides in cabs or limos or with ride-sharing services. There was talk of inspecting every single car used by a for-hire company. There was talk of demanding proof of insurance from every person who picks up a passenger. There was talk of charging every driver or company a fee for using the road.
But as more than one council member said, the city can make all the rules it wants, but they’re meaningless without the staff to enforce them — as evidenced by the recent revelations that Yellow Cab was self-insuring for years in clear violation of Dallas City Code.
Dallas, said council member Lee Kleinman, has “lost sight of some of the [existing] ordinance.” The city, he said, should come up with something that will both “embrace technology and maintain the ordinance.” His key concerns were safety: Kleinman spoke of running background checks, performing inspections and making sure anyone in the city could get a ride from every service on the road at any time of the day. He was also the first, but not the last, council member to suggest every service pay a “fair, equitable” fee to use the road.
Tennell Atkins seconded the fee. Sheffie Kadane proposed separate rules for cabs and limos. Carolyn Davis said the city needs to guarantee passengers as “being priced fairly.” Dwaine Caraway said he wants to see “a playing level field for automobiles, horse and buggies, bicycles” — you name it.
Philip Kingston, more or less speaking on behalf of Uber and Lyft and the other smartphone-ordered car services, said it would be a “value-missed opportunity if we create a blizzard of regulations for an industry that doesn’t seem to need it.” Jennifer Staubach Gates pointed out the diverse audience — one filled equally with cabbies, Lyft drivers, Uber passengers — and said that if the council tries to pass a rule that “tries to run any of you out of town, I will not be for it.”
Scott Griggs said he supports letting everyone do whatever they want, within reason, and “let the market work it out.” Said the Oak Cliff councilman, the only reason the city’s in this mess is because cab service “has decreased to a point where others moved in” to offer an alternative.
Meanwhile, the chair said she “does not yet have a position.” Which may or may not be true.
Hill repeatedly cut into presentations from Uber and Lyft representatives, insisting they didn’t answer the council’s pointed questions submitted on Friday, while letting Yellow Cab’s president and owner Jack Bewley make it through his 10 minutes without interruption. And not once was the Yellow Cab insurance issue brought up, while Uber’s rep had to answer such questions as “Why has Uber been sued almost everywhere they go?” and “Explain why Uber has no liability in the death of a six-year-old girl in San Francisco?” and “What is your projected net income?”
Every faction got its say: Cab drivers complained that limo drivers are overcharging customers, cutting in lines at hotels and killing their business. Lyft users spoke of the “joyous” experience that comes from making new friends while ride-sharing. Uber’s Justin Kintz, one of the company’s start-up public policy experts, insisted his company already runs the background checks and carries the million-dollar insurance policy the city’s demanding.
Perhaps the most anticipated speech came first — from Jack Bewley, the generous contributor to council members’ campaigns and the man who got this ball rolling when Yellow Cab’s attorney demanded new city rules intended to reign in Uber’s speead across the city.
“By allowing limousines to compete directly with taxicab companies, the city places in jeopardy safe, quality service to the entire community,” he said in prepared remarks, which you will find in full below. “Currently, the limousine industry is being allowed to skim the profitable fares at whatever rate they choose to charge, and leave the unprofitable regulated fares to the heavily regulated taxicab industry.”
Michael Morris, the transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, even made a surprise cameo to beg the council to tap the brakes until it finishes writing a regionwide policy, which should be done within 60 to 90 days.
“We need more technology and more enforcement,” he said. But right now, he said, the region is plagued by “inconsistent standards and a lack of enforcement.” Perhaps the NCTCOG will come up with a single permit for all cabs and limos and ride-sharing companies; perhaps not. He pleaded for just a little more patience.
But in the end, there remains an enormous chasm separating the council’s maybe-we-oughta’s from the actual rules that will be written (or rewritten) by city attorneys in coming weeks or months.
When asked how he thought the night went, Bewley said this and just this, “Hard to say. Only time will tell.”
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