Taxis plead for equity in UberX, Lyft debate

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April 25, 2014 // UPDATED 3:47 pm - May 6, 2014
By: Ben Johnson
Taxi Services President and CEO Steve Pint pleads his case at a meeting regarding Minneapolis' proposed TNC ordinance
Ben Johnson
Ben Johnson
City considers laundry list of taxi driver concerns as it looks to level the playing field between competing transportation options

Minneapolis’ ongoing effort to develop an ordinance to regulate new ridesharing services like UberX and Lyft (called Transportation Network Companies, or TNCs, by the city) will most likely be paired with a series of deregulatory measures applied to the taxi cab industry.

TNCs are similar to taxi companies, but they allow drivers to use their personal vehicles, don’t accept street hails and field pickup requests and handle payment solely through a cell phone app. Two TNC services, UberX, an offshoot of Uber, which is licensed through limousine regulations, and Lyft, which features cars sporting bright pink mustaches, began operating in Minneapolis this winter despite the city declaring them illegal.

Taxi companies say the initial draft of the TNC ordinance released earlier this week includes a number of provisions that are blatantly unfair. Ward 3 City Council Member Jacob Frey, who authored the ordinance, agrees.

“It’s not perfect right now, it needs some work. Obviously there are discrepancies that will need to be addressed,” he said. Those remarks came at a Thursday night meeting he conducted with Ward 6 City Council Member Abdi Warsame and Minneapolis Manager of Business Licenses Grant Wilson. At the meeting they solicited feedback from cab and TNC drivers before a scheduled City Council hearing on the ordinance is held Tuesday afternoon.

One of the big discrepancies representatives from the taxi industry pointed out is that in Minneapolis, taxi companies are required to have all of its vehicles inspected twice a year by the city, while TNCs would be allowed to self-inspect only once a year. TNCs would also be solely responsible for driver training and background checks, while cab drivers have to be approved and licensed by the city.

“It’s completely on the honor system,” said Taxi Services President Steve Pint. “You’re going to trust the TNCs to vet their drivers, to inspect their vehicles, to charge appropriately, to have the proper insurance? And we’re still going to have to check in with the city every single day for all of those things?”

Another regulation deemed unfair by taxis companies is that cabs can be a maximum of six years old (right now all cabs have to be 2008 models or newer), while TNC drivers would be allowed to drive vehicles up to 10 years old.

“That’s not fair and we will definitely be looking at changing that,” said Frey.

Uneven regulations regarding dress codes, cell phone use, smoking and daily ride logs were also brought up by the taxi industry Thursday night.

The question of whether or not the insurance offered by TNCs offers adequate consumer protection looms as perhaps the biggest factor in the ordinance debate. Every Minneapolis cab driver is required to carry their own commercial insurance coverage worth up to $300,000 if two or more passengers are in the vehicle, while both UberX and Lyft do not require its drivers to have any commercial insurance. Instead, TNCs provide their drivers with company coverage up to $1 million, although it remains murky when that coverage kicks in.

A staff report on TNC insurance polies will be released by the state Insurance Commissioner’s office by the end of April, according to Wilson.

Addressing other problems in the cab industry

Some cab drivers used the forum to raise awareness of longstanding grievances they hope will be addressed in conjunction with the ordinance. Many asked for more cab stands in the city and to do away with downtown street closures around bar close on the weekends. Police harassment was another frequent topic cab drivers brought up.

According to Wilson, four TNC drivers, all with UberX, have been ticketed and towed since UberX’s mid-January Minneapolis debut. Meanwhile, cab drivers say they’re constantly targeted and ticketed for minor parking violations.

“I feel like I can’t leave my cab for even one second,” said Haru Abdi, a Blue and White cab driver. “I park so I can run inside and use the bathroom and bam, ticket.”

The draft ordinance was created in conjunction with staff from the city of St. Paul and the Metropolitan Airports Commission, although it appears both entities are content to watch Minneapolis take the legislative lead on the issue.

“We could’ve taken the easy way out on this issue and sat back and let [TNCs] operate without regulation,” said Frey. “Instead we took it on. I’m not afraid to have difficult discussions, and I’m confident we’ll figure something out.”

Ben Johnson // 612-436-5088 // bjohnson@journalmpls.com // @johnsonbend