The Jefferson Parish Council in Louisiana is thinking of establishing some new ordinances for ride sharing companies like Uber and Lyft to follow. The wording of the law has provisions that Uber and Lyft have previously opposed in other areas of the country. I cannot imagine they would embrace them here.
That being said, I wrote a letter to one of the councilmen to try and sway his opinion. Feel free to share this with other governmental officials who you feel threaten the ability of drivers to participate in ride sharing.
I wanted to write to you as someone who does drive for Uber and Lyft as to my experiences with them . I feel that there are some issues that have not been addressed but should be before any vote is taken. This is going to be a long letter.
The first and foremost issue to discuss is that the taxi companies did this (opened a market to other opportunities) to themselves. When I have discussions with local riders on this issue, the riders will often tell me that their choice that night was not between a taxi or an Uber. They tell me that their choice that night was between taking an Uber or driving their own cars. We are not taking business away from taxi drivers. They did that to themselves by alienating people from the industry (especially in Jefferson Parish). This helps to explain why an Orleans Parish study done on the transportation industry in 2015 showed that while the number of tax rides fluctuated only slightly (from 2.4 million to 2.3 million) that the number of Uber rides was 1.2 million. This means over a million people wanted an Uber ride who didn’t want a taxi in Orleans Parish alone.
I remember several rides during Mardi Gras when I would pick someone up in Orleans Parish and take them out to Jefferson Parish (several times to Kenner). The people were so thankful that I was willing to drive them home because the taxis refused to give people who live in Metairie and Kenner transportation (despite this being a violation). On several of those drops offs I received calls from other areas of Jefferson Parish from people needing a ride. They couldn’t get a taxi to come to them. Uber was their only option. One customer told me that they were stuck downtown until 4am one night because a taxi was unwilling to take them to Metairie. That person will never use a taxi again.
Let’s talk about safety for a second. Let’s say Uber is allowed to use their own background checks that they use in Orleans Parish and all other municipalities in which they operate. Who is that hurting? If taking a ride in a vehicle from someone with a stricter background check is important to the customer, that customer is still free to use the taxi. But if they are comfortable using an Uber, then it is really only Uber taking the risk that a driver they hire is a “bad person” who happened to make it past the Uber screening process. Only Uber opens themselves up to liability because of the decision to use the kind of background checks that they use. Uber, by having GPS tracking that records the entire route from start to finish, also makes it a lot harder to get away with doing something bad because the company knows every turn you took during the ride. This is more safety than what a taxi provides.
But there is more to safety than just background checks. It has been shown in several cities that the addition of Uber has helped to radically reduce drunk driving. Cities see less DWI and less alcohol related traffic deaths because a person was able to call an TNC for a ride. I am sure that these cities also had taxis. But the addition of Uber and Lyft reduced drunk driving even more. How does this impact Jefferson Parish? Well all those people I talked about who couldn’t get a taxi to bring them back home to Metairie or Kenner or any other part of the Parish, if they didn’t have a TNC to call, would have to take a car to go drinking. This means they are more likely to drink and drive. But if they know they can take an Uber to go out and come back home, they are less likely to drink and drive. The “why don’t they take a Taxi” argument doesn’t work because these people have already sworn off taxis.
So then let’s get to the other argument made by the taxi industry that Uber should have to follow the same laws as taxis do. My question to that is “why?”. First and foremost these are two different companies. I help prove that by showing how many people were added to transportation totals in Orleans Parish. People are not choosing to take Ubers over taxis. They are choosing to take Ubers over their own personal vehicles.
But that isn’t the only difference. There are many people who do TNC driving part time. I am one of those people. Many people like me only go out when the demand is high. Sure there are some full time drivers. But many of us are doing this to supplement another income source. It doesn’t make sense to regulate part time ride share drivers like full time taxi drivers.
State law agrees with my point. RS 45:201.1 defines the laws of the state for TNC. It is “Part C” of the motor carrier law. 201.4 exempts personal vehicles from the requirements of Parts A and B of the motor carrier law.
“”Personal vehicle” means a vehicle that is used by a transportation network company driver and is owned, leased, or otherwise authorized for use by the transportation network company driver. A personal vehicle is not a vehicle subject to Parts A and B of this Chapter or engaged solely in interstate commerce.”
This means that all of the requirements and exemptions to taxis that are defined in parts A and B of the law do not apply to cars used by drivers for TNC.
So when State law requires a certificate to operate a public carrier vehicle (like it does in Part B of the motor carrier law) that requirement does not apply to TNC because state law specifically exempts it.
When state law requires the full name and certificate number to be visible on a vehicle providing transportation services (like it does in Part B of the motor carrier law) that requirement does not apply to TNC because Part C specifically exempts personal vehicles used by TNC.
When state law requires for hire vehicles to display a meter (as it does in Part A of the motor carrier law) personal vehicles used for TNC are exempted from those requirements in part C of the motor carrier law.
When Part A of state law requires “for hire” license plates and a class D license to operate a for hire vehicle, personal vehicles are exempted from those requirements because of the specific exemptions in Part C.
I could go on with additional things that taxis must have as stated in Parts A and B of the motor carrier law that TNC are exempted from in Part C of the motor carrier law but I am sure that you get my point. The State of Louisiana sees these types of transportation services as being different from each other, with TNC getting less regulation because of the nature of the service being provided. So the argument that parish laws should treat Uber and taxis the same isn’t very logical at all.
Furthermore, if you look at RS 33:4792 (the law that allows municipalities and parishes to draft legislation to further regulate all transportation services) it states that the municipality has the authority to control entry into the market and can regulate “any other requirement adopted to ensure safe and reliable passenger transportation service even if it is anti-competitive in effect”. The same law says that safe and reliable transportation is vital to the State of Louisiana. So not only does motor carrier law exempt TNC from many requirements placed on taxis, this law says that parishes and municipalities can give different sets of rules to different companies, even if the rules for one are anti-competitive. Why? Because having safe and reliable transportation is the compelling state interest here. So the argument by the taxi industry that TNC should operate under the same laws as they do is incorrect under state law.
Uber currently operates in Orleans Parish under their municipal code. They have fees and other regulations set up that the ride sharing companies seem to find reasonable. I cannot speak for Uber as I do not represent them on this issue. However I would tend to think that if Jefferson Parish drafted similar legislation to that of the Orleans Parish requirements that Uber and Lyft would likely be happy to keep doing business in the Parish
If Uber and Lyft pull out of Jefferson Parish because an ordinance is passed that makes them feel that they cannot operate in a profitable way, I won’t likely be effected. The vast majority of my rides originate in Orleans.
But consider the irony here. Liberal Orleans Parish had a shortage of transportation services (as can be seen in the million Uber rides given in 2015) and they solved it with a free market solution. Conservative Jefferson Parish is rejecting the free market solution and is instead seeking to over regulate an industry to a point where they will leave if the suggested ordinance is passed.