June 16, 2014 By Don Walker, McClatchy News Service
Representatives of the Milwaukee taxicab industry and technology-based newcomers Lyft and Uber urged members of a city panel on Friday not to fast-track a proposed ordinance that would revamp public passenger licensing, regulation and enforcement.
For the city's taxi industry, there is concern the proposal would put cab owners out of business after decades of operating under a system that capped the number of permits. Red Christensen, who directs the Wisconsin Association of Taxicab Owners, said a study is needed to determine how many cabs are needed to operate successfully in Milwaukee.
"Let's get a study done and get an educated decision," Christensen told the Public Transportation Review Board.
For Uber and Lyft representatives, the proposed ordinance would put unneeded administrative burdens on the companies' business models. The two firms use smartphone technology allowing people who need a ride to summon one with their phone. Both companies conduct background checks on drivers and inspect the vehicles, two tasks the city would perform under the proposed ordinance.
Ald. Bob Bauman, the board's chairman, said the plan called for a hearing on the proposed ordinance next Wednesday. If that committee backs the proposal, it would then go to the Common Council on June 24.
Bauman said it was his impression there was strong support among council members to lift the cap of 320 permits and let free enterprise take hold. He said he believed he would have as many as eight co-sponsors, including Common Council President Michael Murphy.
The proposed ordinance also would establish rules for vehicle inspections and licensing. Uber and Lyft would fall under language governing limousines. Essentially, the proposal would require drivers to obtain a public passenger vehicle license, pay a fee, go through a criminal-background check and obtain a permit for the vehicle. Proof of insurance would be required.
"They will be treated like any other public passenger vehicle," Bauman said.
Uber and Lyft are operating illegally in the city, under current ordinances. But city officials acknowledge neither the companies nor their drivers have been ticketed.
Candice Taylor, Lyft's manager of government relations, told board members Friday that the company has an outside vendor check drivers' records and conduct a 19-point inspection of the cars in use.
"We can take the regulatory burden from the city," she said. She added that prospective Lyft drivers may not want to go through the city's regulatory process.
Nick Anderson, an Uber spokesman, expressed similar sentiments but said Uber would comply with the proposed ordinance if passed by the council.
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