Lyft and Uber Still Illegal, Still Operating in San Antonio

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John Bouloubasis, president of Yellow Cab San Antonio, speaks with media after the City Countil Public Safety Committee meeting May 7, 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

John Bouloubasis, president of Yellow Cab San Antonio, speaks with media after the City Countil Public Safety Committee meeting May 7, 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

The City of San Antonio will review its vehicle for hire ordinance to possibly accommodate ride service technologies. Until then, however, rideshare mobile application operations Lyft and Uber are in violation of the existing ordinance. Both transportation network companies have drivers that have violated the local ordinance. Ten citations have been issued in the last month.

A cease and desist order was sent to Lyft soon after its local launch in March and the San Antonio Police Department is preparing one to send to Uber now, said San Antonio Police Chief William McManus. The companies had been offering free rides, but Uber began charging regular rates for customers and Lyft now accepts “donations.” Citations for operating without a city-issued chauffeur’s license carry a fine of up to $500.

Enforcement of the ordinance will continue, McManus said, adding that the SAPD will begin to impound vehicles of offending drivers on the first offense if operations do not stop.

A lyft driver picks up a fellow "rideshare" or transportaiton network company (TNC) supporter after the City Council Public Safety Committee meeting May 7, 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Iris Dimmick / Rivard Report

A Lyft driver picks up a fellow “rideshare” or transportation network company (TNC) supporter after the City Council Public Safety Committee meeting May 7, 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

The City Council Public Safety Committee today initiated the formation of a “work group” comprised of representatives from a taxi cab company, limousine company, a transportation network company (TNC/ride service), and the Transportation Advisory Board (TAB) to work with City staff. The task force will examine other municipal practices and draft changes to the ordinance for presentation at the August committee meeting.

Local taxi drivers — most of whom wore bright, yellow shirts to the meeting to contrast with Lyft’s bright, pink swag — had mixed reactions to the decision to amend Chapter 33 of City Code that regulates “vehicles for hire.”

It depends on what the group comes up with, said one Yellow Cab assistant manager during the citizens to be heard session. “We’re not afraid of competition, but we expect a level playing field.”

Lyft screenshot courtesy of Iris Dimmick.

Lyft screenshot courtesy of Iris Dimmick.

Lyft and Uber connect private drivers and their vehicles to passengers via smart phone applications. A portion of the driver’s fare goes directly to the company. The ride services provide extended insurance coverage, conduct their own background checks on drivers, and carry out vehicle inspections. Representatives from both companies claim that their procedures and checks are at least as effective as the traditional, municipal process.

Taxi and limousine companies have repeatedly called foul. Lyft and Uber drivers are not required to pay fees associated with vehicle for hire operations, obtain expensive commercial insurance, commercial licenses, or go through as extensive training/verification processes required by law. There also is a cap on how many vehicles for hire can operate in San Antonio, another aspect that may come under review by the task force.

It is, in effect, less expensive for Uber and Lyft drivers to operate by circumventing the requirements of the ordinance.

District 5 City Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales expressed concern over revisiting an ordinance that has just been through a 10-year analysis and overhaul concluding in August 2013.

“I still feel like we haven’t come to any good conclusions,” she said. “I just don’t know that a working group will uncover anything that already has been … I’d be uncomfortable,” with back-tracking the work done previously to the ordinance.

During that process, however, there was no such thing as a “rideshare” app in Texas. The startups were just starting to gain traction in California. “We were not a part of that conversation … We weren’t even conceived of,” said Uber Dallas General Manager Leandre Johns after the meeting. “These regulations don’t apply (to Uber).”

Johns said Uber is looking forward to being a part of the conversation about changing the ordinance, but that Uber will continue to operate and violate the current ordinance in San Antonio. When asked if Uber would be telling their drivers about the ordinance and citations after the meeting, Johns said no.  “We haven’t received a cease and desist order yet.”

Ride service technology supporters in pink and their opposition in yellow at the City Council Public Safety Committee meeting May 7, 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Ride service technology supporters in pink and their opposition in yellow at the City Council Public Safety Committee meeting May 7, 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

“I don’t think there’s any question that (Lyft and Uber drivers) are in fact vehicles for hire,” said District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran, as hesitant as Gonzales about reopening the ordinance, “but it is worth the effort … it’s extremely important to welcome the opportunity to find the regulatory path.”

Joseph Okpaku, government relations manager for Lyft, spoke during the citizens to be heard session about the company’s commitment to be involved in the conversation as well.

“Laws evolve, they always do. If they didn’t, there would be no need for elected officials,” he said of the upcoming task force’s analysis of the ordinance. “We’re asking to be regulated in a smart, reasonable matter … we welcome the opportunity.”

SAPD Assistant Director Steven Baum gave a presentation of SAPD and TAB research gathered since April.

“A majority of cities have taken a middle ground,” Baum said. They don’t outright ban TNCs, but they don’t let them operate without some sort of regulation. “The transportation industry is changing … if concessions are made for one (type of company), we’d do them for all.

“The permitting process, licence process, driver qualifications …. those standards are fixed across the industry.”

District 10 Councilman Mike Gallagher voiced a concern that there might be a “relaxing” of standards to accommodate Lyft and Uber.

Relaxed is the wrong word, Baum said. “Changing the manner in which we ensure the standard is met” is more accurate.

District 5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales, District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran, District __ Councilman Cris Medina and Dristict 10 Councilman Mike Gallagher listen to citizens to be heard during the City Council Public Safety Committee meeting May 7, 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

District 5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales, District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran, District 7 Councilman and Chairman of the Public Safety Committee Cris Medina and Dristict 10 Councilman Mike Gallagher listen to citizens to be heard during the Public Safety Committee meeting May 7, 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Dozens of advocates on both sides spoke passionately in City Council Chambers to more than 100 people in the room at the peak of the meeting.

Reading from a prepared statement, 80/20 Foundation Deputy Director Scott Meltzer said the real issue was San Antonio’s lack of “robust consumer choice options in transportation,” and how these new companies fill that gap.

“Ridesharing companies, such as Lyft and Uber, are becoming part of the menu (that) talent is looking at when they research the qualities of a city,” Meltzer said.

80/20 Foundation Executive Director Lorenzo Gomez started an online petition in favor of rideshare in San Antonio at

All taxi industry supporters stood while John Bouloubasis, president of Yellow Cab San Antonio, delivered his remarks to the committee. Usually armed with a large binder full of research, Bouloubasis has become the unofficial spokesperson on the issue. He is constantly finding new evidence, he says, that Lyft and Uber are a poor transit alternative for San Antonio.

Citizens holds signs in protest against Lyft and Uber at the City Council Public Safety Committee meeting May 7, 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Citizens holds signs in protest against Lyft and Uber at the City Council Public Safety Committee meeting May 7, 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

He brought with him a printout of a Craigslist listing from a woman in San Antonio who wanted to rent someone’s car to use as her own so that she can make money as a Lyft driver. “Looking for someone who has an extra car (reliable) they don’t use to let me pay you 100 a week to use it or buy it and work for Lyft (a driving company…sorta like a taxi cab.)”

“Do you think she’s going to have insurance?” he asked.

The yellow shirts laughed.

Related Stories:

Online Petition Calls for Mayor Castro’s Support of Rideshare in San Antonio

Fear of Change Holds Back Rideshare in San Antonio

Idled for Now, ‘Rideshare’ Apps Offer Free Rides

Car Share Conversation Now on City’s Agenda

Dear Chief McManus, Let’s Welcome Lyft to San Antonio

11 thoughts on “Lyft and Uber Still Illegal, Still Operating in San Antonio

  1. I think everyone laughed when John Bouloubasis used Craigslist as a “credible source” to prove a point.

  2. The weird thing here is that the mayor said he likes ride sharing but never worked out a deal. He said he likes food trucks but we all know how that turned out. The city became a roadblock. The city couldn’t even figure out how to work with pedicabs. Really?

    The “7th largest city” should be beyond this but we are not. We fall behind our largest neighbors because we cannot act swiftly enough. I always thought innovation was hampered because of the populace but it is hampered because of regulation. It is hampered because of politics. Steve Jobs knew this and he went beyond convention, beyond the rules. I believe he had connections but that doesn’t matter.

    Can we not unhook the chain attached to the weight of bureaucracy?

    The perceived threat to public safety is incorrect. I agree that Austin’ market may be oversaturated soon but San Antonio, not for a while. Yes, the drivers of Lyft and Uber are basically “Micro-contract” drivers and there will be more people like the girl from the craigslist ad. This does not mean that there will be (more) safety issues.

    Accidents will happen and are inevitable. Does this mean that general ride sharing should be outlawed as well, no. Does that mean that the driver taking people on trips together should have commercial insurance, no. What about Paul Walker. He trusted someone else. Does that mean that this threat to public safety, that the public’s concern, should be next on the list of over-regulated businesses?

    The city should work out a deal that will be fair to both Taxi Drivers as well as TNCs. The TNC drivers might get even less work than Taxi Drivers so it won’t be viable for TNCs if their playing field is similar. Their livelihood depends on the best regulation but city officials have not been known for developing regulation that hits the mark, at first.

    They need to allow the ride sharing companies to move freely and figure out the rules afterwards because it is too late. They should have moved ahead of time. They lost their chance. Be pragmatic, leader!

    TRR editor -Feel free to delete what you believe will offend instead of deleting my comment.

  3. It is unfortunate that if large corporations comes into our city and our politicians or their friends want them in, the city will accommodate these corporations at the expense of our homegrown workers and companies. That is exactly what will happen in August. The San Antonio Police Department has City Hall instructions to rewrite the ordinance that took 10 years to develop to accommodate these San Francisco corporations. Once again local politicians giving away what belongs to our locals companies. Instead of the money staying locally and local companies paying local taxes these companies will take the money out of state. This is going to have a devastating effect on the current cab drivers. It will dilute their market and provide less trips to them and they will make less money. But San Antonio politics will take care of these San Francisco corporations. This is no way to treat your local workers. Do you think any of the city leader have showed concern for our worker? No! Look what happened to Windsor Park Mall they gave it away to the City of Windcrest to benefit of another corporation. When will they stop giving away our city. They come election time they will be all smiles asking for out votes. Please do not ask if you are going to disrespect our local workers.

    • I like local companies. Local companies are the key to our competitive advantage against companies outside of the city, and the state. I have always been a proponent of localism not just as a political philosophy but an economic strategy.

      The only problem is that the locals are not behaving and moving forward in ways that will benefit the local economy. I can’t believe this but a good portion of people you see doing good things in San Antonio are not from here. Those people and the ones that stayed behind are important. We need them!

      I don’t think they are cooperating enough though. Sometimes their goals overlap but they are in their own circles, their own bubbles. One thing that upsets me is publications like SHN. They cover Austin and San Antonio. We are two separate cities with our own identities. Cover one or the other!

      I really appreciate the good people at the Rivard Report. They are providing an excellent service to San Antonio and they are a part of our city’s identity. Keep up the good work!

  4. I took a cab home from the airport Saturday. The meter was at $6 before we even got off airport property. The driver was lazy and rude. I had to ask him to load my bags into the car, he hardly spoke English (I think he was Nigerian?), couldn’t program his GPS therefore I had to give him turn by turn directions to my home (which he had difficulty understanding thanks to that pesky English), left the meter running while he searched in vain for his phone attachment so he could take my credit card (running the tab up an additional $3 which I refused to pay), couldn’t find the phone attachment so asked for cash (luckily I had broken a $20 at the airport). How often is this the first impression of visitors to SAT? We need options! It is good for competition, good for the city, and good for residents.

  5. Last night we had the pleasure of following a taxi cab driver (presumably properly licensed and permitted) through downtown as he floated back and forth between lanes without using turn signals while he chatted on his phone. This is a driver who does not face the consequences of being individually rated by his passengers in a public forum that riders can use to determine whether or not to hire him; drivers for Lyft and Uber do. The notion that using taxis is inherently safer than using Uber or Lyft is flat-out wrong. Disruptive technologies often encounter robust resistance as they challenge existing business models, but we need to get this one right. Uber and Lyft offer the opportunity to elevate the hired/shared transportation experience. Let’s make it happen. Competition is good and healthy for all parties. The market will determine who succeeds and who fails.

  6. Last night, my wife and I used Uber twice… once to get downtown and once to get home. I’ve used Uber in multiple cities during my travels (Seattle, SF, LA) and have never felt the least bit unsafe. I feel SAFER having a record of the driver’s name, vehicle, and license plate.

    I’ve not used taxis in San Antonio, but in other cities, I’ve had many scary and unsafe moments with “professional” taxi drivers… including going the wrong way on a one-way, a driver who seemed drunk and swervy, and a Boston cab driver who kept falling asleep at red lights. The taxi companies have no accountability, it seems.

    And then I had this life-threatening situation in Cincinnati / Kentucky (and see the video I took):

    To the taxi companies who claim they are concerned about public safety, I call BS. They are concerned with maintaining their monopoly and limiting compeition.

    I’ve written my councilwoman, Ivy Taylor, expressing my support for Uber and Lyft.

  7. So taxi companies are mad that consumers now have an accomodating service that thay can rate after their.experience on a personal basis? Geez, I wonder why they are so scared? Have you ever been in a pleasing taxi ride? ever been in a taxi that doesnt try to make extra $ by taking long routes, catching red lights, etc? Have you ever been in a taxi that allowed you to rate your experience? The answer is no. Maybe that is why they are fearcul for their jobs. Because anyone with a right mind can oerform it better for less.

  8. I recall all the news stories of drunk drivers and alcohol related deaths. Deaths that included police officers. Lyft and Uber are new ways to prevent alcohol related incidents that even the Chief of Police admitted was difficult to prevent. I say let them stay and for every ride they give one less drunk driver on the street!

  9. I have used Uber in san antonio over 10 times and have never had a bad experience. For the most part the vehicles i have been picked up in by Uber drivers are newer, cleaner, and much more expensive vehicles than that of any yellow cab that I have ever been picked up in.

    In comparison, traditional yellow cab drivers are some of the rudest and laziest drivers i have ever encountered (in SAT and around the world.)

    San Antonio cannot continue to perceive itself as a major metropolitan city without making rideshare options available to its population and its visitors.

    As for the Yellow cab drivers being under cut by ubers service that is safer, easier to use, faster, more efficient, with swankier rides and an individual driver GPS application to boot… karma is a bitch….

    for anyone yet to take a side…. dont knock it till you try it. i guarantee once you try uber you wont go back to the traditional yellow cab service.

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