City Crafting Alternative Rideshare Ordinance

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Screenshots from the rideshare mobile applications Uber (left) and Lyft (right).

Screenshots from the rideshare mobile applications Uber (left) and Lyft (right).

Key players at City Hall are crafting an eleventh-hour amended ordinance to stop Uber from leaving San Antonio, 10 days after the rideshare company announced plans to end service here if one of the nation’s most restrictive ordinances goes into effect on March 1.

The ordinance passed by Council in December, say supporters of Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) like Uber and Lyft, is so restrictive compared to other cities that it seemed designed to drive out any competitors using new technologies threatening the local taxi industry.

District 1 Councilmember Roberto Treviño speaks at the grand opening of SAHA's Lofts at Marie McGuire. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

District 1 Councilmember Roberto Treviño speaks at a recent event. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

The working group is being led by Councilmember Roberto Treviño (D1), who represents the center city, and includes Jill DeYoung, Mayor Ivy Taylor’s chief of staff, Deputy City Manager Erik Walsh, and interim San Antonio Police Chief Anthony Treviño.

Councilmember Treviño confirmed the latest developments in an interview late Sunday after several sources shared details of the effort with the Rivard Report.

The group is drafting a less restrictive ordinance that could be presented to City Council for approval within weeks, and no later than March 5, Treviño said in an interview.

“I feel very positive that we are very close to a compromise agreement,” Treviño said. “We are really focusing on a policy that does not make us look like a city that stifles innovation at the same time we take care to assure the public’s safety.”

Treviño said he could not say if the proposed revisions would win the support of Mayor Ivy Taylor and others on the City Council who voted 7-2 in favor of the highly restrictive ordinance in December that prompted Uber representatives to announce they will end service in San Antonio.

“I am an architect and we are all about creating a culture of collaboration,” Treviño said. “We want to be facilitators, not regulators. We don’t want regulations that are stifling for one industry or another.”

Treviño is the newest member of City Council, appointed Dec. 11 to replace Diego Bernal, who stepped down to seek the House seat vacated by former state Rep. Mike Villarreal, who is running for mayor. It was the very day of the Council vote on the rideshare ordinance. Treviño, who literally had just taken his oath, abstained. If he does lead a working group to successfully craft a compromise ordinance that keeps rideshare in San Antonio, it would be a remarkable accomplishment for a council member with less than three months in office.

“I am trying to do what’s best for the city, and I feel good about the spot I’m in, and I think we are almost there,” Treviño said. “I appreciate the collaborative efforts I’ve seen with staff and with Uber.”

Another source said Mayor Taylor would reach out to Uber on Monday and send company representatives a letter intended to keep the company from pulling up stakes in San Antonio.

The move to soften the ordinance even before it takes effect comes after weeks of building public protest over the Council’s December vote and, in the preceding months, widespread disapproval among rideshare users of how Uber and Lyft and their drivers were treated by city government.

Recently retired Police Chief William McManus was the driving force behind the move last year to tightly regulate Uber and Lyft, branding the services and their independent drivers as lawbreakers. The public, on the other hand, embraced rideshare companies as a welcome transportation option, one that employs smart phone apps to put affordable ride service at the fingertips of customers. Many users cite it as the most effective tool available to combat drunk driving.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, who served as San Antonio’s mayor from 1991-95, sent an open letter to Mayor Taylor one week ago on Feb. 9 that criticized the pending ordinance and how it would negatively portray San Antonio around the nation. Rideshare, he wrote, is an attractive and popular transportation option that reduces the incidence of drunk driving, and is especially appealing to skilled young professionals that cities everywhere are competing to retain and attract.

Mike Villarreal. Courtesy photo.

Mike Villarreal. Courtesy photo.

Mayoral candidate and longtime Southtown resident Mike Villarreal, who recently stepped down from his District 123 House seat in the Texas Legislature, is making rideshare a campaign issue. A campaign email blast on Sunday called on his supporters to sign a petition launched by Lorenzo Gomez III, the director of the 80/20 Foundation and Geekdom, the downtown tech incubator and co-working space. Nearly 5,000 people had signed the petition by Sunday evening.

“Please take a couple of minutes to watch my video on Lyft and Uber,” Villarreal wrote in the email to supporters and city residents.

“The City of San Antonio should embrace policies in support of entrepreneurship, ridesharing and welcome these apps to San Antonio to combat drunk driving, reduce road congestion, make a positive impact on the environment and improve public safety and transportation options for our community,” Villarreal wrote.

From the beginning, many in the city saw rideshare as a mishandled issue, one that came under attack as former Mayor Julián Castro prepared to resign his office to accept a Cabinet post in the Obama administration and District 2 Councilmember Ivy Taylor was elected to serve as interim mayor. City Hall seemed threatened by innovation and unnerved by an angry taxi lobby.

Some around City Hall who opposed the rideshare regulations said Mayor Taylor and Councilmember Rebecca Viagran (D3), who chaired the Public Safety Committee that produced the ordinance, along with other Council members, voted on the matter without any first-hand experience with rideshare services.

Taxi drivers and media crowd the Public Safety Committee meeting room to hear talks about how authorities will deal with "rideshare"/transportation network companies. Photo by Iris Brandy Rae Perez.

Taxi drivers, rideshare supporters, and media crowd the Public Safety Committee meeting room to hear talks about how authorities will deal with rideshare in April 2014. Photo by Brandy Rae Perez.

“The goal in developing regulations of Uber, Lyft, and other TNCs have always been to keep San Antonio safe and ensure economic fairness for businesses,” Viagran said in a statement sent to the Rivard Report Sunday night. “The ordinance was born from the recommendations of Police Chief McManus and community members with that focus in mind. I take my role as chair of the Public Safety Committee very seriously.  The goal of the regulations were for public safety and to allow them to operate legally in SA. I understand the Mayor will be responding with a letter and I look forward to seeing what the Mayor has to say.”

From the beginning, Chief McManus framed the matter as a law enforcement and public safety matter rather than a breakthrough 21st century transportation option that simply could not fit into 20th century regulations written decades ago to regulate a legacy taxi industry.

“It’s a victory for the riding public and the consumers,” said John Bouloubasis, president of Yellow Cab of San Antonio, when the ordinance passed last December. Bouloubais represented the traditional taxi cab industry on the ordinance task force, and controls a significant majority of the taxis operating in San Antonio. “Remember, these companies came in here operating illegally. Now there’s a regulatory framework in place for them to follow.”

The taxi lobby contributed thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to select Council members and staged orchestrated protests at City Hall in which some of the participating drivers said they were paid to show up, carry placards, fill City Council chambers and play to local television news cameras.

Uber supporters look on as traditional taxi company drivers hold signs in protest of changes to the Vehicle for Hire Ordinance. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Uber supporters look on as traditional taxi company drivers hold signs in protest of rideshare. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Beginning March 1, drivers for rideshare companies will be required to have a 10-fingerprint background check, drug test, a review of their driving record, an initial and yearly vehicle inspection (including random checks), and proof of personal insurance. Documentation of these requirements will have to be presented to City staff by the driver – in person – before a driver and vehicle permit is issued at a cost of  $175. The process will likely take about two weeks, according to City staff.

Instead, it now appears an ordinance that is closer to those passed in other Texas cities will be brought to City Council for a vote. The effort will be lauded by rideshare supporters, but is bound to be opposed vigorously by the taxi industry and will be scrutinized by those concerned that City Council is rushing a revised ordinance through the system.

Had the City not decided to act in the face of mounting protest, however, several San Antonio lawyers were considering a legal challenge to the ordinance. Some of those lawyers asked to remain unnamed, but appellate attorney Beth Watkins said she has been part of such discussions.

“Honest to God, the way this ordinance is written is totally unconstitutional and some of us have been talking about challenging it on equal protection grounds because it is so wrong,” she said. “The ordinance, as written, only makes sense to me if the City is in bed with Yellow Cab, and I know they say that’s not the case, but that’s how the ordinance looks on its face.”

She said the ordinance illegally sets higher insurance requirements for TNCs than taxi companies.

“The Constitution requires that the City treat similarly situated companies equally. For no good reason, the City has decided that traditional taxicab companies like Yellow Cab are not like ride-share companies like Uber and Lyft. The City requires that companies like Uber and Lyft carry $1,000,000 in insurance for the safety of their passengers. Yet the City permits companies like Yellow Cab to carry only $30,000 in insurance,” Watkins said.

“If your Uber or Lyft crashes and you are hurt, the maximum you can collect for your medical bills and other injuries is $1,000,000. But if your Yellow Cab crashes and you suffer the same exact injuries, the maximum you can collect for your medical bills and other injuries is $30,000. In both scenarios, the passenger is just as hurt. But the City has decided to give special treatment to companies like Yellow Cab by only requiring them to carry $30,000 in insurance. That decision violates the Constitution.”

Watkins said she looks at rideshare as both a lawyer and as a single woman who feels more secure using Uber rather than conventional taxi service.

“I don’t feel so safe taking Yellow Cabs, I do feel safe in Uber cars,” Watkins said. “There is less time waiting wherever I am, and once in the vehicle, I feel safer.”

Jorge Herrera, another local attorney involved in the litigation discussions, said he and his wife, Victoria, are “huge supporters of Uber and Lyft.”

“We used Uber to attend the recent Hispanic Chamber of Commerce gala at the Grand Hyatt Hotel downtown. I didn’t want to deal with parking, or driving after having something to drink,” Herrera said. “Taxi service isn’t anywhere near as good: it takes cars longer to arrive, the vehicles aren’t as nice, and drivers don’t want to accept credit cards.”

*Featured/top image: Screenshots from the rideshare mobile applications Uber (left) and Lyft (right).

This story was originally published on Sunday, Feb. 15, 2015.

Related Stories:

Uber to Leave San Antonio, Lyft on the Fence

USAA Offers Rideshare Insurance in Colorado 

Commentary: ‘Rideshare’ Needs Rules

Commentary: Does Rideshare Regulation Save Lives?

San Antonio Imposes Strict Rideshare Rules

Graham Weston: A City on the Rise Needs Rideshare

39 thoughts on “City Crafting Alternative Rideshare Ordinance

  1. Beth Watkins has no clue what she is talking about. Instead of posting the same thing why don’t you answer any of the questions me and many other have posted time and time again?

    Have you even done any of your own research Mr Rivard? A quick google disproves much of what you have quoted from people who have no idea what they are talking about.

    On another note yes we all know you want mike to win the mayorship. But could you please get a quote from one of the other 7 candidates next time or even better all of them.
    Please don’t say you contacted other candidates because i know for a fact that is a lie.

    • Andrew

      You don’t present a single fact argument. Please spare us your ridiculous assertions about lies. I speak to all the Council members with some frequency and you obviously know nothing about such communications. Your message is nonsense.

  2. It’s also a business issue. So one business has to follow rules while the others not so much. City politics as its best…

  3. For the most part, the compromise seems reasonable .

    The sticking point is about the insurance, however. Will the city require these ride share drivers to have commercial licenses? Will the new ordinance require both taxis and ride shares to insure their vehicles for $1,000,000 with the coverage in effect from the time the driver starts up the vehicle? Will USAA or another major insurance company step in and provide this kind of insurance?

    If these insurance guarantees were in place, I, for one, would prefer Uber and Lyft over traditional taxis any day.

  4. Good work Councilman Trevino. Let’s push this to the next level.

    Everyone needs to remember the true public safety concern: drunk driving. We need all available options in our community for people to consider, before getting behind the wheel of a vehicle while intoxicated.

    Also, it’s interesting to note this regulation was pushed through BEFORE the city’s comprehensive transportation study becomes due May 2015.

    Does that make any sense?

  5. There are two possibilities for this ordinance. Either they city will relax regulation for all for-hire car services in this city, maintaining a level playing field where the presence of an iPhone app doesn’t grant a driver some special regulatory waver, or they city will buckle under the pressure of these TNCs and their billions of dollars (Uber is worth $41 Billion by the way, not exact small potatoes), and we will see the numerous locally owned for-hire car services go out of business while Uber adds to their billions.

    I’ll be watching closely, because this issue is pretty much an intelligence test for our City Council and Mayoral Candidates. Can they actually see the real issues or are they blinded by a shiny smart phone app?

    • Nomrah, the picture you paint hasn’t held true in the other TX cities or in any of the cities across the nation where TNCs have been allowed to operate. I agree that a review of the for-hire regulations should be in order as well. According to R Street, San Antonio ranks as one of the worst markets for any for-hire regulations in the nation. We should move forward on all fronts. But let’s not regress a market just because of the other markets.

      • Here is my issue. I don’t want our city to relax regulations and allow Uber and Lyft to put drivers (both working for them and sharing the road with them) at risk. If the TNCs are allowed to continue operating under the model that requires their drivers to commit insurance fraud, then that is simply not OK.

        Lets get USAA to the table as well as any and all insurance regulatory bodies with jurisdiction over this issue. And lets make sure we don’t destroy the taxi industry in favor of Uber and Lyft. Not everybody has a smart phone or can use one. They must still be able to flag a cab and pay cash. Giving the TNCs a huge advantage would decrease transportation options for those of us who need them most.

  6. I applaud Councilman Trevino. I continue to wonder why Ivy Taylor is running for mayor. She promised this city she would not run when she accepted the interim post moreover, she is like a willow bending in the breeze, whichever way her personna looks in public opinion is the side she wishes to be on. An easily influenced person with seemingly no thought processes of her own. Ivy Taylor is a true follower and not a leader. She followed Chief McManus and when his opinion proved unpopular and and incorrect she shifts. Her ideas on gentrification are not her own . As far as I can tell nothing original has come out of her office. She has done more damage as a placeholder and would be extremely detrimental as permanent mayor.

    San Antonio needs a progressive mayor with fresh ideas to bring it into the future. We do not need candidates who are anchored in false ideas such as to secure business investment with China it must come through Taiwan. Perhaps this is why San Antonio has been overlooked while other cities such as Chicago, Phoenix, San Diego , Dallas and Houston among many other smaller cities that have secured Chinese investment into existing or new companies.

    As to the remainder of the city council who voted 7-2 against Uber & Lyft , please return the money you received from the taxicab lobby and reconsider your votes. Furthermore, San Antonio is not too big to have these business pull out if it is unprofitable to operate to run here ( any member of the chamber of commerce should be cognizant of this reality that companies do not purposely operate at a loss).

    San Antonio needs to move out of the 20th century and into the 21st. This is the only way we will attract the educated workforce and companies to grow into healthy secure well funded city. Our alternative is to remain a tier 3 city and pick up the scraps which remain.

  7. Great article. I am grateful for the efforts of some of the council members to work on a viable solution. I strongly support the evolution of our great city by working on ways to embrace innovation.

    The public safety issue of drunk driving is an important one and Uber and the like provide a mechanism whereby people can easily make the right decisions.

  8. Proud of CM Trevino taking leadership with this–this is so important to San Antonians on both sides of the aisle. Especially downtowners.

  9. the current taxis are not serving the city well. I hear this from every SA passenger who has previously attempted requesting a dispatched taxi. Why would you recommend regulating (mostly)part time drivers using their personal vehicles the same as full time drivers using company owned vehicles? It’s not the same business. Also, while you’re saying locally owned for-hire services will go out of business, I haven’t seen the data to back that up, there are many jobs created by allowing part time drivers to make money using these platforms. In addition, there are many people who use the TNC’s on a regular basis who would not be using taxis in the same way. This data comes directly from the people using Uber/Lyft who hate trying to get a taxi dispatched to their location.

  10. This is welcome news!
    In a city that has one of the highest DWI rates in the country to take away a safe, convenient and inexpensive ride option seems almost insane. MADD has done research that shows when cities implement a rideshare option they see a significant drop in DWI rates. Literally with a swipe of an app people who have been drinking can make the right decision not to drink and drive. Make someone wait an hour for a cab and perhaps they get behind the wheel of a car or get into a car with someone has been drinking.

    Why would San Antonio want to be the only city in Texas or one of the only major cities in the country whose city council puts such strict regulations in place that a rideshare option is not possible?What message does this send potential businesses looking to come to our city? That the atmosphere here does not encourage technology or inovation.?That we won’t keep up with the times?
    Let alone the business travelers,tourists and conventions who upon arriving in our city see that we don’t offer the same modern transportation options that they have come to expect. Will that make their visit to our city a positive one as they struggle to move safely and conveniently through our city? Or will they be shocked that a city our size was unable to work through this process when even New York and Los Angeles have been able to accomplish this task.

    Bravo to Councilman Trevino for working to come up with options that may work to keep this valuable solution.

  11. This is an issue about providing citizens a choice. In a marketplace economy we should be able to decide whether to take a cab or a #rideshare. The City Council made it economically unfeasible for Lyft and Uber. Now they can undo the damage and let us decide with out wallets. And apps.

  12. “The Constitution requires that the City treat similarly situated companies equally. For no good reason, the City has decided that traditional taxicab companies like Yellow Cab are not like ride-share companies like Uber and Lyft. The City requires that companies like Uber and Lyft carry $1,000,000 in insurance for the safety of their passengers. Yet the City permits companies like Yellow Cab to carry only $30,000 in insurance,” Watkins said.

    It would be nice if the supports of Uber and Lyft actually were in support for equal treatment of those companies. If Uber and Lyft drivers are held to the exact same regulations that the taxi companies are held to, those companies will leave San Antonio.

    So lets stand up for the Constitution Mr. Watkins and Mr. Rivard and lets call for identical regulatory burdens for all drivers of for-hire car services, regardless of what technology they use for payment or dispatch.

    Can you speak out in favor of equal treatment under the law Robert?

    • We totally support equal treatment, Erik. Let’s see if the taxi industry wants to start carrying more insurance coverage and subject their vehicles and indy contract drivers to exactly the same requirments as rideshare drivers. –RR

      • you are missing one important fact. Right now taxi’s have insurance, they are licensed and they are abiding by the current law. Uber has NEVER abide d by any law in this city NOT ONE. So you can preach all you want how great uber is but the fact is they are violating the law and until the come into compliance they don’t deserve squat from us

        • Andrew

          Your statement is untrue. Uber and Lyft drivers are licensed, their vehicles inspected and held to a good operating standard, and they do carry insurance, for example. Sounds like law-abiding people to me, no matter how hard to try to demonize them. Rideshare service culture is outstanding and the average education level of drivers is high. You are on the wrong side of the marketplace. Taxis will fare just fine, no pun intended, but they will do so not by resisting change, but by providing nice cars, drivers trained to offer better service, and more timely arrivals. Competition is coming. It’s already here. Rideshare is not the enemy. It’s part of the future. Make that the present. –RR

          • Sorry but you are completely misstating the facts here.

            The vehicles are not inspected the same way taxis are inspected. If McDonald’s wanted to conduct health inspections on all its franchise locations, that would not allow those locations to sidestep the city ordinances regarding health inspections.

            The drivers’ insurance is very much in question, and it is a stone cold fact, indisputable by you, that the vast majority of those driving for Uber and Lyft in San Antonio are doing so without informing their insurance companies, thus they are committing insurgence fraud. This puts all of us in danger when these thing come to light after an accident.

            There are moves to close the insurance gap, and USAA is attempting to step up to the plate and offer an insurance plan for these drivers, but pretending that insurance is not an issue does not help your cause.

            The service culture and education of the drivers has nothing to do with this, why would you bring it up?

            And the TNCs very much do put the entire taxi industry at risk. As long as TNCs can undercut the taxis thanks to unfair regulation, the taxis simply cannot compete.

          • Insurance is an issue, but for both sides. As we will soon demonstrate in a coming story, taxi owners resist paying more than minimal level insurance claims in legal cases where passengers are harmed in accidents, citing drivers as independent contractors. Bottom line is insurance coverage demands being placed on rideshare drivers, who own their cars, and rideshare companies is higher than insurance requirements for taxi owners and drivers. Taxi owners ignore the needs of their drivers. My longtime taxi driver has terminal cancer. He has received no help at all or any coverage from the company owner. We clients have chipped in to help pay his bills. –RR

      • Glad to see you are for equal regulation for all for-hire car services.

        I’ve been trying to get to the bottom of exactly what is required for all the different types of for-hire car services and I’m curious if you have enough information for a comprehensive side by side comparison. I really do think that an honest, side by side comparison would open a lot of people’s eyes to what is really going on here.

        From what I have seen of all the city and state regulations that have kept the TNCs happy, Uber and Lyft are unwilling to operate in a city where they are regulated the same as all the other for-hire car services.

        I guess what I’m trying to say here is that if you do stand by your position in favor of equal treatment under the law, then you are positioned squarely against the interests of Uber and Lyft.

        • Like any journalist, I am appalled by his behavior. You’ve never read anything on the Rivard Report that defends inappropriate corporate behavior by Uber or by any other entity. I don’t like the corporate practices at many companies, but that doesn’t mean we would advocate for their exclusion from the market. Example? General Motors handling of its faulty ignition switches also has been appalling, but I wouldn’t take it out on local dealers or GM consumers. –RR

          • Sorry. Should have included this in my other response. It’s the TNCs that are threatening to pull out, not their drivers. If you really want to stand behind the “local dealers” you might want to start putting pressure on Uber and Lyft to stop stealing driver tips and start working in good faith with the city and local regulators to come to a workable solution.

            What’s clear about this entire situation in SA is that Uber and Lyft took issue with our police chief expecting compliance with the written law, and they decided to act like big fat babies about it even after the council left them plenty of room to operate and make a profit. I honestly think they thought they could make McManus pay for his C&D order. Hopefully San Antonians can see that this was a clear case of city government squaring off against a rich and powerful corporation and not backing down.

            The TNCs are not going away. If Uber and Lyft want to be stubborn and pull their service, I’m certain that plenty of entrepreneurs in this city would gladly put a day and half of work in, to code a competing app that wouldn’t shave off tips and might actually put the profit in the hands of these great San Antonians actually driving the cars rather than CEOs and Wall St. investors.

            I’m not going to get behind Uber and Lyft because they are the MySpace of TNCs. They will evaporate as soon as the cities like San Antonio and others develop the correct regulations, insurance companies like USAA develop the correct policies, and developers like (insert cool app developer name here) develop an app for independent drivers that doesn’t funnel profits into the pockets of fat cats while leaving their drivers high and dry.

            Sorry for the rant. I love your site.


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