Jax Vehicles for Hire committee meanders to conclusion

Uber messenger

A sense of urgency permeated the Jacksonville City Council Vehicles for Hire committee Monday afternoon, as the longstanding special committee met yet again to determine regulations for Uber and Lyft, in what was supposed to be the last meeting of this special committee.

Though insurance levels had been agreed upon, as was the concept of yearly inspections, previously, there was still ground to cover.

Spoiler alert: there are more questions than answers about whatever the pending legislation might be, which will be fodder for the standing committees.

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Inspections were the first topic discussed by the committee, and predictable fissures were again revealed on the committee.

John Crescimbeni wanted to ensure inspections were not performed by an “employee of the company they were inspecting.”

They managed to get agreement on that point, with a 4-to-1 vote in favor of inspections.

Background checks were next, with Crescimbeni wanting fingerprints as part of the background check, as the citizens of Houston mandated via referendum.

Of course, the transportation network companies may leave Houston, in response to its regulations.

The sticking point: applying standards of full-time licensure to the independent contractor model.

The Houston process, said Cesar Fernandez of Uber, can take up to four months to complete, leading to an erosion of the business model.

Lyft, likewise, doesn’t operate in jurisdictions with this sort of background check.

Advocating for Lyft, Steve Diebenow noted the incompleteness of fingerprint registries, lack of national standards, and peripatetic updates of databases.

The preference: “name-based background checks.”

Dismissed charges, said Diebenow, impact “disadvantaged communities,” the members of which are disproportionately set up on charges that later are dropped.

The background check discussion continued for some time, with Crescimbeni assuming the prosecutorial mode with regard to people with “more than one name … more than one Social Security number” and even more than one set of fingerprints.

“Perhaps we need to bring in a special agent from the FBI to give us some insight on this,” Crescimbeni said, describing the rideshare industry contention that their background checks are fine as “revolting.”

Councilman Bill Gulliford noted that, regarding the committee discussion, that whatever comes out of this is a recommendation, and this whole discussion will be the province of standing committees.

A motion for fingerprint-based background checks for taxi and TNC drivers, by Crescimbeni, was moved and seconded, even as Council members continued to discuss the issue, with Gulliford wanting testimony from someone from the National Association of Background Screeners.

Gulliford wanted to know how background checks didn’t ferret out people who committed criminal acts while functioning as rideshare drivers.

The motion passed. But there was an issue: only a government agency can do an FBI-compliant background check.

Chair Matt Schellenberg wondered why it was that companies wouldn’t exceed minimum standards.

“You want us to dictate to people what to do,” Schellenberg said to Crescimbeni. “I just find it appalling that we have to tell businesses to do what’s best for business.”

Schellenberg and Crescimbeni continued their spirited debate on the issue, with Crescimbeni saying that a “sector in the industry” wasn’t abiding by ordinance code, suggesting that “maybe we should de-regulate the entire industry.”

Schellenberg wanted a motion to deregulate the industry. No one took the bait, with Gulliford saying “we don’t want to be laissez-faire and we don’t want to be Attila the Hun either.”

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The discussion moved on to potential penalities for rideshare scofflaws.

Nothing came of that discussion, and that will be left for the standing committees of the future to figure out.

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A discussion of city audits of TNCs was up next, with a proposal of 20 audit subjects per year.

Crescimbeni took issue with that, saying that process could be gamed.

“If we don’t require medallions or licensing, it will have as much value as a piece of paper,” Crescimbeni said.

The motion was not seconded.

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Medallions were discussed next, with a discussion of again extending the moratorium on taxi cab medallion fees, which inexorably puts a hit on the general fund.

That was something to which the committee could agree, and it will be on the agenda for Tuesday night’s meeting of the Jacksonville City Council.

Crescimbeni pushed for medallions on TNCs, noting that cab companies could file an equal protection claim if not on TNCs, before attempting a motion that all vehicles for hire have medallions.

That motion was not seconded.

Crescimbeni noted that without medallions, there’s “no revenue stream” to “regulate the industry.”

“Perhaps that’s what part of the industry wants,” mused Crescimbeni.

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“The problem we’ve had throughout this process is [pretending] that one size fits all. One size does not fit all,” Gulliford said.

More holistically, questions are raised by the Jacksonville City Council’s inability to find a real common ground on this matter.

It will be left to incoming Council President Lori Boyer to find a way to address this continuing regulatory crisis, on the standing committee level.

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has written for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. He is based in Northeast Florida. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @AGGancarski



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