Council Will Seek To Even Playing Field For Taxis, Uber

Council Will Seek To Even Playing Field For Taxis, Uber

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A pair of County Council proposals to be unveiled Tuesday could even the playing field between traditional taxicab companies and app-based personal car services such as Uber and Lyft.

The bills would loosen some regulations on the taxicab industry and add regulations for Uber, a strategy led by Councilmember Roger Berliner to allow the popular service to remain in Montgomery County despite protests from local taxicab companies with deep roots such as Barwood.

At an Oct. 9 committee hearing, Barwood Taxi President Lee Barnes continued to make the case that his company is at a severe competitive disadvantage compared to Uber and Lyft because of the county’s long list of insurance, licensing and safety requirements for taxicabs.

A representative from Lyft said at the hearing the company already does background checks on drivers and indicated it would be open to similar requirements being handled by the county government.

Berliner and Councilmember Nancy Floreen will propose a law that would define Uber and Lyft as “transportation network application companies.”

Any such companies would be required to obtain a license to operate in Montgomery County, have all drivers registered with the county and have all drivers subject to local and national criminal and background checks, a national sex offender database and a full driving history check.

While the county would continue to set rates and fares for taxicabs, services such as Uber and Lyft would still be able to operate outside of the fare structure. The bill would limit the controversial Uber practice of “surge pricing,” but only during a declared state of emergency.

The bill would also require Uber and Lyft to carry insurance coverage of at least $1 million at all times, including when drivers are logged into the network looking for potential customers. That would be a change from how Lyft operates now. The company insures operators during rides.

An Uber representative did not appear at the Oct. 9 committee hearing.

A separate bill would make it a little easier for traditional taxicab companies to operate.

The law would amend Chapter 53, the section of County Code that includes a number of stringent requirements for taxicab operators.

The bill would make it easier for a taxicab company to grant a sublicense to another person, an effort to expand the pool of available drivers. It would increase age limits for taxicab vehicles, loosen restrictions on uniform color and marking requirements and allow software-based meters to be used in taxicabs instead of the currently required taximeters.

A public hearing on both of the bills is tentatively set for Dec. 2.

The introduction of the bills come almost two months after Art Holmes, the director of the county’s Department of Transportation, wrote a letter to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick stating his concern that the company operates like a taxi cab company without the proper county taxi licenses. 

In response, Berliner penned a letter to County Executive Isiah Leggett to share his concern that the move might work to “drive Uber out of Montgomery County and detract from our aspirations to support innovation and innovative companies.”

Barwood is being represented by Chesapeake Strategies, a county and state lobbying firm that has worked on behalf of Montgomery County in the past.

Flickr photo via Mike

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