For the past several years, there has been a question of whether companies that allow regular drivers to act like taxis should be allowed to operate in Texas. Despite some legal challenges, services like Uber, Lyft, Sidecar, and more have been successful in cities like New York and San Francisco. And as they’ve sought to expand to Texas, these companies have encountered similar legal conundrums. Police in San Antonio have threatened to impound cars of Lyft drivers, and this summer fourteen drivers had their cars impounded in Austin, KXAN reported.
There are legitimate reasons to be concerned with rideshare services—their business model involves using public goods like roads without paying corresponding taxes for their maintenance and upkeep, and there are big questions about the insurance status of their drivers—but an outright ban of a growing industry being utilized effectively in other parts of the country is not necessarily a march toward progress.
That’s something that Houston seemed to realize last week, when the city became the first in Texas to pass an ordinance allowing Uber, Lyft, Sidecar, and similar companies to operate, according to Click2Houston.com:
Taxi cab drivers have been fighting it, but on Wednesday Houston city leaders gave the green light to companies like Uber and Lyft.
For months Uber and Lyft have been asking to operate within city limits, but city leaders have been slow to say yes because there were questions about how to regulate the new mobile app-based services.
City Council members discussed the topic for more than five hours Wednesday and focused on insurance, accessibility for the disabled and how to make sure there weren’t any gaps in regulation that could lead to lawsuits down the road.
(Click2Houston’s report notes that Mayor Annise Parker supported the measure even as she called it “disruptive,” proving that the outlet’s awareness of cloying tech-industry buzzwords is a few steps out of date—”disruptive” is high praise in tech world.)
The ordinance mitigates the issue of a competitive imbalance between cabs and rideshare companies—which fancy themselves outside of a system of permits and fare requirements—by allowing cabs to do some of the same things that the rideshare companies do, like using “surge pricing” to charge more for rides during peak times. (Licensed cabs will only be able to jack up the prices on customers who hail them using the taxi company’s official apps, however, which means that hailing a cab by raising your hand on the street during busy times in Houston probably just got a lot harder.) The rideshare companies, meanwhile, will have to cover any insurance gaps that occur as questions arise about whether drivers with personal insurance policies are covered while using their cars for commercial purposes.
Cab companies in Houston, predictably, are unhappy about the ordinance—and it seems their compatriots in Dallas will likely soon be able to join them in being disappointed. As the Dallas Morning-News reports, a year after the city tried to bury Uber, they’re now running a public comment period on a proposed new ordinance:
[H]ere we are a year later still without a new ordinance, just a newly minted draft of one sent to council members Friday night containing 21 pages of rules and definitions that kicks off a public comment period that runs from today through August 29.
On Friday night, that new ordinance hit the city’s website. It’s below, along with instructions about how to submit comments. There will also be a public forum that “will be scheduled at a later date.” Give it a look-see. See if it “levels the playing field,” as intended, or if it’s 21 pages too long, which is what council member Philip Kingston will tell you.
Kingston’s a staunch supporter of rideshare apps coexisting with taxis (“I sure wish we’d back off regulations so we’d have less chance of convoluted regulations across the region. Meanwhile, the sun still rises in the east, cabs still pick up people from the airport, Uber gets people home from Uptown with their clothes misbuttoned, and no one gets hurt,” the DMN quotes him as saying). And presumably some of the supporters in Austin and San Antonio will use the advances in Houston and Dallas as an impetus to figure out how all of this will work in those cities, too. More transportation options are a good thing, if the cities can figure out how to mitigate the potential trouble. We’ll see in coming months, as Uber and Lyft operate in Houston, if the city is on the right track.