All taxi drivers, including people who drive for ride-share companies like Uber and Lyft, should be required to have background checks and undergo physicals, local taxi company owners told the City Council Monday.
The council is considering an ordinance that would eliminate city requirements for Uber and Lyft drivers, but continue the requirements for traditional cab drivers.
The city has not been enforcing the taxi driver licensing rule on ride-share drivers and the ordinance change would make city law match reality.
Owners of local cab companies opposed the proposed change at Monday’s public hearing, and argued the local requirements are a good idea for everyone who offers ride services to the public.
The council will not take any action on the proposed ordinance change until its Oct. 16 meeting.
The city licensing requirements -- a background check conducted by Lincoln police, a test assuring drivers know Lincoln and a physical -- "are not a burden,” said Mark Mitchell, president of Happy Cab and Yellow Cab.
But Mitchell thinks people who drive for ride-share services should have the same requirements.
In addition to city requirements, Mitchell said he checks his drivers' driving records monthly and requires they pass a federal commercial driving test.
“This ordinance is an important tool, reinforcing the company’s belief that public safety is paramount,” said Andy Pollock, Lincoln attorney representing Happy Cab and Yellow Cab.
The president of Leisure Cab agreed.
“I do not in any way want the city’s requirements to go away,” said Jim Joneson. “That is a realm of professionalism, and I want it to remain.”
The proposed city ordinance would remove any city regulations for ride-share drivers, but state law requires the parent company to do background checks. This information does not have to be reported to the Nebraska Public Service commission, though the PSC can audit companies.
Joneson said he has seen drivers more than once who have failed the background check done by LPD driving for Uber or Lyft.
He also pointed out state law does not require any markings on cars indicating they are being used for Uber or Lyft.
“You have kids out there in mom and dad’s car, claiming to be Uber, and hawking rides for cabs," he said.
Uber and Lyft pulled out of Eugene, Oregon, and Austin, Texas, markets, after those cities required all drivers to be vetted by local police departments, Joneson said.
Austin got a grant and is operating its own ride-share program. “They are doing it very professionally. They are competition to the cab driver, but they are a legitimate, honest competition,” he said.
The owners and a taxi driver also pointed out the state regulates rates and services for traditional cab companies but not for Uber and Lyft drivers.
Cab drivers do not discriminate against people who don’t have a credit card. They can’t deny a ride to someone because they don’t like their looks or where they are going, said Lincoln cab driver Bill Mulloy.
And they can’t charge more because it is a busy time of the day, he said.
Mulloy said he's read that Uber and Lyft are cheap alternatives to cab service. But, he pointed out, that isn’t always true.
It might cost $15 to get downtown on a Friday night and $50 to $60 to get home because the ride-share companies charge more during the busiest times, he said.
Mulloy said this price changing is called "surge pricing." Joneson called it "predatory pricing."
Police Chief Jeff Bliemeister supported ending city requirements for ride-share drivers, in part because of the extra work required for handling hundreds more background checks.
Checking a new driver requires about 45 minutes; a renewal takes about 15 minutes, he said.
But the two local cab company presidents told the council they would be willing to pay more for licensing if that were necessary.