The battle to bring rideshare services to San Antonio started heating up last week, as the City Council held a public hearing to debate whether—and how—Uber, Lyft, Sidecar, etc, should be made legal.
That’s a battle, being waged in all four of Texas’ biggest cities, that we’ve remarked on before. But things got especially heated in San Antonio’s May 7 hearing. According to the San Antonio Current:
Lyft asserts it is not a Transportation Company, but rather a Technology Platform. Notably, a taxi driver turned around from the podium, yelling at the Lyft drivers that they “are barbarians attempting to take over San Antonio” and that “you didn’t even ask our permission to be here.” The owner of Yellow Taxi spoke at one point followed by a throng of at least 10 supporters, firmly opposing any change to the Chapter 33 Ordinance.
That sort of rhetoric is, ahem, perhaps a bit overblown (notably, Texan author Robert E. Howard, when chronicling the adventures of Conan the Barbarian, did not once pen a story in which the character shuttled goatherders and blacksmiths around Cimmeria in a car adorned with a pink mustache on its bumper), but it’s certainly true that the bulk of the opposition to these services comes from people representing the taxi industry.
The notion that companies like Lyft, Uber, Sidecar, and the rest needed to “ask permission” of the taxi drivers to attempt to enter the San Antonio market perhaps speaks to a level of entitlement on the part of industry that people who support the app-based services find galling; additionally, the taxi folks at the meeting rubbed salt in the wounds of the still-outlawed ridesharers by boasting of their ability to offer services in the city with words emblazoned on their chests:
At the crowded council committee meeting Wednesday, taxi and limo company representatives, many wearing yellow shirts with the words “Licensed. Insured. Legal,” complained that Lyft and Uber just are trying to skirt the city rules that taxis and limos must follow.
That’s a sick burn toward the unlicensed, perhaps-uninsured, not-yet-legal companies out of California that are attempting to enter the market. The sickest burn, however, came from San Antonio police, who threatened to start impounding the vehicles of Lyft drivers. The company responded that it would “stand behind” those drivers, though the exact details of that are unclear: Will it pay the fees of drivers who find themselves punished for taking passengers through the service?
All of this, of course, is only relevant for as long as the Chapter 33 Ordinance in San Antonio remains unchanged to consider how to regulate the services (if the city chooses to do so at all). That means we’ll only be having this conversation in the city for, oh, maybe another decade:
The Police Department recommends, “establishing a ‘Work Group’ comprised of a local representative from a taxi cab company, a limousine company, transportation network company and the transportation advisory board to meet with City staff to draft revisions to Chapter 33 to permit Transportation Network Companies to legally operate in San Antonio,” which the committee appeared to be leaning towards.
Even so, Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales and Police Chief McManus expressed their dubiousness of a compromise being reached. Gonzales noted the transportation ordinance took 10 years to establish.
An hour or so north of the heated battle, meanwhile, Austin is once more considering legitimizing these “barbaric” services, by Crom. It’s something that City Councilmember Chris Riley is pursuing as a possible solution to Austin’s ongoing drunk driving problem, which seems to find itself the source of headlines more and more often. As the Austin American-Statesman reports:
Council Member Chris Riley wants the city to create a pilot program for so-called transportation networking companies, such as Uber and Lyft, and for the city to work with the three taxi companies that operate in Austin to figure out how to meet peak taxi demand.