A proposal from City staff to integrate rideshare companies into the existing Vehicle for Hire Ordinance, and therefore legalizing rideshare operations in San Antonio, was met with unanimous opposition from the Transportation Advisory Board (TAB) Monday evening. It seems arguments from all sides of the issue remain unresolved – and just as heated.
The TAB is made up of citizens, representatives from transportation, tourism, and hospitality industries. The board's vote to reject the proposal that would legalize rideshare was not surprising.
The traditional vehicle for hire (taxi, limo, shuttle, carriage) industry claims that the transportation network companies are unfairly and unsafely circumventing regulation under the guise of mobile technology. The TNC's, and San Antonio Police Department Assistant Director Steven Baum, claim that regulations need to be changed to accommodate for an evolving industry – including its technology.
"The (proposed) system’s a little different, the system for the transportation network companies puts responsibility on the companies to vet the drivers (and vehicles) according to city standards,” Baum said. Traditional companies go through a testing and verification process through the City.
"The way we validate (those standards) is we do random, unannounced inspections,” he said, compared to the regularly scheduled inspections granted to traditional vehicles for hire and their drivers. Baum assured TAB members that neither public safety nor the city's economy would be put at risk.
“I can’t believe you’re shoving this ordinance down our throat,” said TAB member George Alva during one of the most heated exchanges between a board member and Baum. "From the very beginning your mind was made up."
Three months ago Baum was tasked by the City Council Public Safety Committee to see if there was a way to integrate rideshare into the current ordinance (Chapter 33 of City Code) and present his findings at the committee's Aug. 18 meeting. From there, the committee can decide if further research is required or if the proposal should proceed to a City Council vote.
To inform Baum's formal recommendation, a task force comprised of members of the Transportation Advisory Committee, TNC representatives, and taxi/limo industry representatives was formed and held working groups for two months.
“We looked at what other cities and (other states) had put in place and what we had in place here in San Antonio," he said. "The meetings were a little tenuous ... like this one."
But the task force's recommendation, drafted by Baum, doesn't seem to entertain any of the traditional industry's requests for more strict regulations on TNC's.
"There was no compromise on the part of the members of (the TNC's) in this proposal," said John Bouloubasis, president of Yellow Cab of San Antonio. "They (Lyft and Uber) disrespected the SAPD and the cease and desist order ... They’ve been known to comply with other city regulations, why not here?"
New York City, for instance, has made rideshare companies register and operate just as traditional vehicles for hire.
A half-dozen taxi and limousine drivers showed up to the meeting to protest the legalization of rideshare during the Citizens to be Heard session. Neither Lyft nor Uber representatives attended the meeting.
Bouloubasis called for a feasibility and/or impact study be done before adjusting the ordinance. TAB member and National Cab owner Robert Gonzales echoed this call. While the TAB's vote will not effect the City staff recommendation to adopt the proposal, City Council will likely be hearing these concerns at the Aug. 18 Public Safety Committee Meeting.
"There (are) no statistics out there,” Baum said of the nature of studying the effects of new technology on an old industry. "Because it’s all new.”
Several rideshare drivers have been issued citations for operating without a city-issued chauffeur's license during the past months, which carries a fine of up to $500 and possible vehicle impoundment. Both Lyft and Uber are currently offering discounted rates and specials in San Antonio.
"I fully intend to go to City Council with a recommendation to adopt these changes," Baum said, reminding media after the meeting that a recommendation does not an ordinance make. "I will also voice the (TAB)’s decision."
*Featured/top image: Pink mustaches are Lyft's calling card. Since the citations and cease and desist orders, however, Lyft drivers typically leave the 'stache at home. Photo by Iris Dimmick.