Channel 4 reports that the City Council is getting ready for a fight with Uber and other smart phone apps that provide car service. The rules committee decided Tuesday to increase fines and possibly impound cars of drivers who don’t follow the rules. Council members said Uber has thumbed its nose at the city by not following rules like background checks and inspections of the vehicles used. Representatives from Uber were not at meeting, but a lobbyist for Lyft, a similar company, told council members they will work with the city. Although other officials from Uber and Lyft say they’d consider leaving Jacksonville if the penalties go into place.Others from the taxi cab industry said it is time for everyone to follow the same rules. “Make the playing field level and make it fair for everybody,” said Brad Braddock, general manger of Checker Cabs. “That’s all we are asking for.” The full Jacksonville City Council will take up measure on Tuesday.
Uber and Lyft’s “ride-sharing” service allows passengers to arrange and pay for rides through smart phones and utilizes a large network of part-time drivers, many who fit in rides on the weekends or between their other jobs.
While the tougher penalties move closer to passage, several council members have said the city should re-examine its current regulations that oversee vehicles-for-hire. Councilman Matt Schellenberg wants to create a separate set of regulations for ride-sharing companies. Mr. Shellenberg told the Times Union that “Part of our responsibility is to lessen rules and regulations so businesses can operate,” Schellenberg said. Under his plan, ride-sharing companies would be responsible for providing criminal and driving background checks, inspecting vehicles and verifying its drivers’ insurance. The plan was created by Steven Diebenow, a local lobbyist representing Lyft.
The city’s current regulations require drivers to submit to a criminal background check and vehicle inspection provided by the city, plus prove they are adequately insured.While Uber and Lyft drivers do not go through the city’s permitting process, both companies say they independently perform the same back grounding and verifications on all of their drivers and offer proper insurance. Diebenow told the paper that a trip to City Hall to get a permit and the threat of having their cars impounded would deter drivers from driving for Lyft. Without strong driver participation, he said Lyft would consider leaving Jacksonville. Councilman Greg Anderson said the city needs to find a solution that ensures passengers’ safety but also encourages the companies to stay in Jacksonville. “People who come to visit our community, there is an expectation that these services are available,” Anderson said. “When they come to Jacksonville and those are services aren’t available, I don’t think we’re sending a signal that is friendly as I wish we could send.” However, other council members said they didn’t think the companies should have their own set of rules. Councilman John Crescimbeni said Uber and Lyft are no different than taxi companies and said creating separate regulations for them wouldn’t be fair.“What we’re doing is we’re going to set up some double tiered where people with meters in their cars, they get to abide by all these rules and regulations, but those with no meters in their cars, they can do whatever they want to.” Councilman Stephen Joost, who introduced the new penalties, suggested the companies try to comply with the current regulations before asking the city to create a new set of laws. The tougher penalties are the city’s response to Uber and Lyft’s refusal to comply with the city’s permitting process. Since the companies came to Jacksonville this summer, City Hall has issued cease-and-desist orders to both companies and written about 30 citations to drivers. However, the companies have ignored the orders and have simply paid the drivers’ fines of several hundred dollars each. The city believes the new penalties would have more backbones because it would shift the penalty away from Lyft and Uber and more toward individual drivers, who work for the company between school or full-time jobs and drive their own vehicles.
US News & World Report recently reported that a new think tank report shows there is no evidence that passengers are in more danger in rideshare cars than they are in taxis.
The libertarian Cato Institute’s January policy analysis claims that the companies have adequate driver background checks. Both Uber and Lyft require background checks for a number of offenses – such as DUI, violent crimes and sexual assaults—going back seven years. According to Cato research, though that time span may be short, the requirements are often stricter than some of America’s biggest cities’ taxi requirements.
There must be a way to welcome Uber and Lyft while making sure the passengers of these car services are protected. I don’t know what the answer is, but there must be some type of middle ground.