County Council Passes New Laws Targeting Taxi, Towing Industries
Taxi laws would allow individual drivers more control, while towing bill restricts 'predatory towing'
Barwood taxi cabs line up in downtown Bethesda
The County Council Tuesday agreed to provide more taxi cab licenses for individual drivers, make services like Uber pay for more wheelchair-accessible cabs and crack down on tow truck companies that patrol private parking lots.
The three bills spurred a few hours of council debate Tuesday morning. We break the legislation down here:
Taxi cab licenses
The council began its deliberations on taxi cab rules almost 10 months ago with the idea it could also regulate popular app-based ride services such as Uber and Lyft.
The state General Assembly passed its own regulations for Uber and Lyft earlier this year, preempting the county from doing the same. While the Uber vs. traditional taxi cab question also highlighted issues between taxi cab companies and its own drivers, the state preemption put the focus squarely on drivers’ issues.
Taxi cab drivers who work for a major fleet, such as Barwood, often have to pay the company to use the company’s dispatch service and to cover insurance costs. Private Vehicle Licenses, or PVLs, allow drivers to operate their own cabs without the costs associated with operating a taxi belonging to one of the county’s six major fleets.
To allow individual drivers more flexibility, the bill permits 25 PVLs to be provided directly to drivers, 25 PVLs to small fleets and 50 PVLs to drivers in a yet-to-be-formed taxi co-op.
An amendment was added to the bill Tuesday to allow sub-licensing of PVLs. Council members said they hope the bill also puts more cabs on the street, something they hope can help taxi cabs compete against Uber.
Fund for wheelchair-accessible taxi cabs
The state’s Uber law didn’t prevent the county from acting on wheelchair-accessible transportation options.
Most vehicles from “transportation network services” (meaning companies such as Uber and Lyft) don’t provide wheelchair-accessible vehicles. So the bill’s sponsor Roger Berliner and others created a .25-cent surcharge on all transportation network service rides originating in Montgomery County.
That money will go into a county fund and be provided to taxi cab companies that do have wheelchair-accessible cabs and that participate in programs to transport seniors and low-income residents that Uber doesn’t generally serve.
The approved version of the law kept a ban on “spotters,” the term county officials use to describe towing company employees or drivers who wait and watch for a driver to park their car and walk off a property before quickly pouncing to tow that vehicle.
But it did away with a 15-minute grace period for those who park illegally, a change that was recommended by the council’s Public Safety Committee.
The final version of the bill also lowered the “drop fee,” from $50 to $25. A drop fee is charged if a driver gets back to his or her car as it is being hooked up to a tow truck, that person now must pay $25 instead of $50 to ensure the car isn’t taken all the way to the impound lot.
Finally, the bill ensures that the ban on spotters only applies to parking lots on commercial properties. The bill would allow residential properties to continue having tow truck drivers patrol their lots.
Many homeowners associations and rental properties hire towing companies to do routine patrols of their lots for parkers without required permits. Berliner, also the lead sponsor of this legislation, suggested the change because the intent of the bill was to discourage aggressive towing in business areas only.