The revised rules for taxicabs and cars for hire in Minneapolis are either the cutting edge of change — or flat-out discrimination that pits two business models against each other at the expense of potential riders.
“This is, in every way, what progress looks like,” said Council Member Jacob Frey, who took a lead role in revamping rules to account for car-for-hire services Lyft and UberX, which have been operating in Minneapolis illegally for the past year.
Called Transportation Network Companies, Lyft and UberX drivers are summoned via a smartphone app, with the customer and the driver agreeing on a fee paid by credit card.
“This enables people to move away from the automobile-in centric mentality and feel comfortable not being behind the wheel themselves and ultimately, abandon their car,” said Frey.
Council Member Blong Yang, the one member who voted against the new rules, pointed out that the regulations would allow Lyft and UberX to pay one license fee for their entire fleet, while taxicab companies are charged per vehicle, plus a yearly fee for the company, for each new driver and for inspection fees.
“I’m not afraid of progress but I’m not sure we understand what the unintended consequences will be,” said Yang.
Yang said the new regulations will end up costing the taxicab companies twice what Lyft and UberX pay just to be in business in Minneapolis. He also expressed concern that the Transportation Network Companies are not required to serve every part of the city — or to have vehicles accessible for clients in wheelchairs.
“I think in the end the consumers foot the bill, and in the lower incomes they are hurt the most,” said Yang.
The new regulations include a wheelchair incentive program financed by a $20 fee paid by drivers of the nearly 900 licensed taxicabs in Minneapolis, with another $20,000 added to the pool by a $10,000 surcharge to each of the TNC companies.
“What you have in front of you is the wish list from the taxicab companies,” said Council Member Abdi Warsame, who worked to rewrite the rules for taxicabs. He said the new rules are the product of months of meetings with drivers, company owners and riders.
“I think this is a new model, and what we are facing is resistance to change,” he said, “This is a product of compromise. Not everybody is going to be satisfied. We know this.”
Council Member Lisa Goodman recalled that many of the arguments against food trucks initially accused city officials of treating established restaurants unfairly. She pointed out that there are now 120 licensed food trucks in Minneapolis.
“Its not our job to protect the status quo,” said Goodman. “Change is difficult, and I understand that it isn’t always equal, but as long as we can be fair and allow progress, we’ve done our job.”
The Council voted to review the new rules in a year.
“We’re calling this a victory for the taxicab industry,” said Zack Williams, who owns Rainbow Taxi Corporation. “We got some concessions here that are going to be good for the taxicab industry — a little bit of relief. We would have liked a litter more to level the playing field but it just didn’t happen today.”