In Wednesday’s Jacksonville City Council Vehicles for Hire Committee, representatives for Transportation Network Companies had their say.
Speakers such as a Senior Public Affairs Associate from Uber, Cesar Fernandez, spoke to clarify the ridesharing industry’s position.
Fernandez noted the industry commitment to background checks, vehicle inspections, and other safeguards that have assured local jurisdictions, such as Gainesville and (soon) West Palm Beach, about the TNC model.
Tim Alborg, Public Policy Manager of Lyft, noted Lyft’s focus on safety and dedication to a “zero-tolerance policy for alcohol and drugs … background checks … and ability to track drivers via GPS,” while voicing his interest in “common-sense legislation.”
Councilman John Crescimbeni, viewed by some as an advocate for the taxicab industry, pressed Alborg on issues such as “operators who are non-compliant with our regulations.”
Crescimbeni reiterated previous concerns about “medallions,” which he said lobbyists advocated for sometime back, as well as what he considers a policy of “thumbing your nose” at local regulations.
Crescimbeni then asked about operations in Houston related to the Final Four “activity” over the weekend.
“You guys were expecting record business Saturday and Monday during the basketball tournament,” Crescimbeni noted, before saying that Houston required a drug test, fingerprinting, and other safeguards that Uber balked at, saying they would have a “negative impact on our business.”
The issue: Part-time drivers simply lack the resources to submit to an onerous regulatory process.
Councilman Bill Gulliford brought up the question of “rogue drivers,” saying that when passengers consent to a cash-under-the-table transaction, the passenger assumes risk, but the lack of insurance coverage is a concern to him.
Though he’d like to criminalize the practice, the General Counsel demurred, saying that only penalizing the process is possible.
Gulliford noted that a cab driver years ago was a serial killer preying on women, which occasioned the institution of local background checks.
“I doggone sure want to make sure we take every step to protect the people you’re transporting,” Gulliford said.
Alborg noted a willingness to work with Council to draw legislation up, noting that Lyft doesn’t operate in Houston because of the undue regulatory burden.
Councilman Garrett Dennis, while noting his dedication to the “free market,” had questions about whether the drivers were independent contractors.
“I’ve been going back and forth, back and forth … and what I keep going back to is the enforcement piece,” Dennis said.
With 1,114 medallions out already, the city only has $111,400 for enforcement, which gives Dennis concerns about the budget for enforcement and “spending city resources to enforce what we do.”
Charging a fee per driver, given the part time nature of TNC drivers, was a nonstarter for Alborg.
Alborg noted that after 13 months, Palm Beach County approved an ordinance on first reading this week, which he said “leveled the playing field” between TNCs and taxicabs.
Also discussed: the ugly incident in Kalamazoo, where a Uber driver handled fares between shootings in a shooting spree.
Fernandez noted that individual had “absolutely no criminal history” and “would have passed any background check on the planet.”
“We’re rolling out telematic technology,” Fernandez said, that allows monitoring of fast driving or erratic braking, which “allows us to have as safe a ride as possible.”
Brad Braddock of the politically active Checker Cab company had his say also, casting aspersions on TNC background checks, quoting an article saying Uber’s were “completely worthless.”
Licensing regulations also came up, with TNC reps drawing a distinction between their part time drivers and full-time cabbies, and expressing a willingness to draft “sensible, modern” legislation that acknowledges the meaningful distinction between the two discrete classes of drivers.
Schellenberg noted the impact of the regulatory burden, noting that “some cities are easier to deal with than others.”
“The truth of the matter is that there are 80 jurisdictions today … that have a regulatory framework that looks like Tallahassee and West Palm Beach,” said Fernandez.
Those jurisdictions encompass 160 million Americans.
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Also discussed was an amendment to current taxicab regulations by Council President Greg Anderson, which would allow for variable levels of insurance determined by driver activity, “company issued trade-dress” for vehicles when “available for services,” nationally-accredited third-party background checks, and annual inspections by ASE certified mechanics.
Crescimbeni, shaking his head after a series of Schellenberg questions to TNC reps, described “frustration over this open-door policy for Uber and Lyft, while shutting down representatives of the taxicab industry.”
“If this is going to become the Uber committee, maybe I need to resign from this committee and do something else,” said Crescimbeni, who got $1,000 from Checker Cab magnate Grady Braddock during his 2015 re-election campaign.
Schellenberg, meanwhile, noted that the TNC reps were brought in to provide a “broader perspective on the world around us.”
That didn’t mollify Crescimbeni, who said Uber, in saying they would only bring in Uber Black, couldn’t be trusted.
“Promises made. Promises not kept,” Crescimbeni said, citing what he perceived to be an industry tendency toward “prejudicial information.”
Crescimbeni then pushed for taxicab regulations to be applied to the TNCs, saying that cab companies are following the rules and the regulations are “working.”
“I would move the existing regulations with the caveat that receipts include a … warning that if you are booking a vehicle, you are doing it at your own risk,” Crescimbeni thundered.
As the committee soldiered toward its 3 p.m. close, one thing was clear: for yet another meeting, it seemed no closer to resolution on the issues than when it started.
The city’s risk management chief, Twane Duckworth, lauded the “astute” moves of TNCs on issues such as split-level insurance, saying that just because it doesn’t mirror what the cab industry does “doesn’t mean that it’s bad.”
Duckworth noted the ultimate goal is to “protect the consumer,” and that the cab industry could learn from the TNCs regarding insurance coverage variability.
They did find concurrence on insurance, at least, with three committee members agreeing on insurance levels.