Austin considers deregulating taxi industry

Austin taxi cabs wait for their next fare (KXAN Photo/Amanda Brandeis)
Austin taxi cabs wait for their next fare (KXAN Photo/Amanda Brandeis)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Five days after Proposition 1 failed, the City of Austin’s Transportation Department (ATD) is suggesting the city deregulate the taxicab industry to create a more “level playing field.”

ATD Director Robert Spillar issued a memo Wednesday stating the city will continue to “regulate all ground transportation providers for the purpose of public safety” but says the city should evaluate and consider changes to make it a “truly competitive marketplace.”

The department has already started talking to stakeholders to get their input on how the deregulation would be implemented. Currently, the city caps the number of cab permits. There are 915 taxi permits, up from 756 the previous years. By revoking the franchise agreements, the taxi and limousine industries in Austin will be allowed to compete in the open market.

However, some taxi companies aren’t excited about the idea of deregulation.
drivers an option to drive without a company allowing them to be an equal partner and, in theory, pay lower fees.

Taxicabs Operating in Austin

  • Yellow Cab: 514 permits
  • Austin Cab: 240 permits
  • Lone Star Cab: 161 permits
  • Taxi Co-Op

“It doesn’t make sense, you don’t need to change what’s not broke. You leave it alone,” said Ron Means, General Manager of the Austin Cab Company. “I think it’s a terrible idea.”

His biggest concern is that the city would stop determining the cab fares, like they currently do.

“I think you would have taxi wars and people fighting, you’ll have problems. I don’t think we need that, I think we need law and order,” said Means.

If deregulation is approved, that will mean more taxis on the road, and the city will bring in more revenue. For each taxi permit, they receive $450.

The city memo has some TNC drivers upset. Lyft driver Lenell Ripley tells KXAN she and other drivers are angry after hearing the news, just days after they lost their jobs.

However, a statement from Uber has a different take:

Similar to the ridesharing law passed in 2014, modernizing the taxi code could create more options for riders and drivers, and that is always a good thing.” – Uber spokesperson
According to city officials, they’ve been looking into changing regulations since the renewal of taxicab franchise agreements in spring 2015. They say it’s not in reaction to the defeat of Proposition 1.
Council member Don Zimmerman says he sat down with taxi lobbyists last year about deregulating the industry, and they told him “no.”

Earlier this year, the ATD started accepting applications for driver-owned co-op business models. The idea of driver-owned taxi franchise is to give taxi drivers more control of their work and ultimately keep more money in their pockets. The taxi co-op would give
In regards to pick-up and drop-offs at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, the city is considering an “opportunity for a concession model or other management structure,” continued in the memo.

Throughout the month of May, the department plans on holding two stakeholder meetings. Once the idea is vetted by the Urban Transportation and Mobility Committees, the item should go up for a city council vote by early August.

Ever since TNC companies like Uber and Lyft came into the Austin market in 2014, taxi drivers have held numerous protests.

 

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