Howard Higa, president of The Cab taxi company, said Wednesday he has had enough of Hawaii politicians dillydallying when it comes to the regulation of app-based ride-hailing companies Lyft and Uber.

He was testifying at a Honolulu City Council Budget Committee meeting in favor of a bill that he said would place traditional taxi companies on an even playing field with the newcomers.

Higa accused state and city leaders of taking far too long to establish regulations for the ride-hailing companies, which he said establish their own vocabulary to circumvent the law.

Howard Higa The Cab. 13 july 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Howard Higa, president of Hawaii-based The Cab, wants more regulation of companies such as Lyft and Uber. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

At the state level, a Senate bill that would set insurance requirements for Lyft and Uber has been approved by the Legislature and sent to the governor’s desk. But several bills that would have established unique standards for companies like Uber and Lyft died — one would have established a permitting system for such companies and another would have regulated companies at the county level.

A City Council bill introduced earlier this year would have regulated the companies separately from taxi companies, but never made it to a committee hearing.

Higa suggested the latest City Council bill be altered to ban the companies’ surge-pricing practice, which increases ride fees according to demand — he called it “gouging.” At the other end of the price spectrum, he also complained about free ride offers, which he said taxi companies can’t afford to compete with.

Despite the fact the ride-hailing companies were mandated by the state Department of Transportation to stop driving customers to and from the airport in July 2014, Higa said, the practice continues.

“It’s total mockery on the system,” he said. “Total mockery what they did at the airport.”

Requiring standard fee rates and eliminating surge pricing were discussed as potential amendments to the bill.

Sheri Kajiwara, director of the city Department of Customer Services, told committee members that all rules should apply equally to taxi and ride-hailing companies

Following Kajiwara’s comments, Lyft Senior Public Policy Manager Timothy Burr Jr. told committee members he’d like to submit his own proposed amendments to the bill’s requirement that drivers pass a national background check.

“We share the goal at Lyft of ensuring safety as the top priority as we’re creating these regulations and ensuring safety for folks who want to participate in Lyft and ride sharing,” Burr said.

In written testimony, Burr emphasized the app’s traffic-relieving and pollution-reducing benefits when customers link up with friends and split the cost on their phones.

Although an Uber representative submitted written testimony that indicated they intended to speak, no one from the company attended the meeting.

Uber’s written testimony suggested Honolulu adopt unique regulations for companies like Uber and Lyft instead of imposing the same rules used for taxis.

Honolulu City Council member Ann Kobayashi6
City Council Budget Committee Chair Ann Kobayashi seemed sympathetic to taxi companies’ concerns. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2016

The business model is notably different, Uber said, pointing to statistics that show more than 60 percent of its Honolulu drivers work less than seven hours per week to supplement income. Uber also noted these drivers work beyond their 9-5 jobs and often during late-night hours, which it said has contributed to decreased impaired driving charges since its launch in Honolulu.

Uber argued its average driver, with other commitments, wouldn’t bother waiting for a lengthy certification process.

Under the bill, both taxi and ride-hailing companies would be required to keep a database of their drivers, which would include complaints. Fees for private transportation services would be set and re-evaluated every two years.

Drivers would have to obtain a certificate, which is already required of taxi drivers. The certificate, which must be renewed every two years, would ensure the driver has:

  • A valid Hawaii’s driver’s license, registration, insurance, safety check and general excise tax license
  • Passed a U.S. criminal background check for the past seven years
  • Driven for at least a year
  • A “sufficient understanding” of English
  • Understanding of local traffic laws, streets and landmarks
  • Been deemed physically and morally fit based on records
  • Paid a $25 fee

Lyft and Uber already have many of those requirements, though many cities or states have their own additional requirements, according to Lyft’s website.

Drivers who have committed more than three minor moving traffic violations in the past seven years would be prohibited from obtaining or renewing a driver’s certificate. More serious violations like driving under the influence, recklessly, or with a suspended/revoked license once in the past year would also prevent the state from issuing a certificate.

Anyone on the national sex offender registry or convicted in the past seven years of sex-related, drug-related or terroristic offenses would also be prohibited.

The certificate, along with a company logo in the lower passenger-side area of the windshield, would have to be prominently displayed.

Budget Committee Chair Ann Kobayashi said the committee was getting close to ironing out kinks in the bill and that it would be tweaked again before the next meeting July 20.

If it passes the committee, it would go before the full City Council.

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