At least two Honolulu taxi companies aren’t impressed with proposals designed to put cab firms on a level playing field with ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft.
Two bills before the Honolulu City Council would make regulations on traditional taxi companies similar to those on ride-hailing companies.
They received preliminary approval from the council last week.
Both measures were proposed after Mayor Kirk Caldwell vetoed a bill that would have limited how much ride-hailing companies can charge customers through surge pricing, which is based on demand.
Bill 43 and Bill 44 would make regulations on traditional taxi companies similar to those for ride-hailing companies.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Bill 44, submitted by Caldwell, would give taxi companies more freedom with fares and allow them to charge a flat rate like Uber and Lyft, or a pay-by-the-mile fare.
Bill 43, introduced by Councilman Trevor Ozawa, would allow all private transportation companies to set in advance the total fare for a single ride, as long as prices are disclosed up front and made available to the passenger’s cell phone. Taxicabs usually charge based on time and miles traveled, with the final price determined at the destination.
Ozawa’s bill would also eliminate taxi certification numbers, but would preserve the requirement that taxi drivers provide passengers with receipts when requested.
David Jung, owner of EcoCab, said deregulating taxi cabs — instead of placing more restrictions on Uber and Lyft — will hurt consumers and taxi companies.
Cab companies have been regulated for decades as part of the public transportation system, Jung said. But if the law changes, his company would be forced to adapt to a business model that puts it at a disadvantage to ride-hailing companies.
“Of course I’m going to lose,” Jung said, adding he would basically be competing on the turf of the ride-hailing companies.
Jung also said low-income, elderly and disabled people could be disproportionately affected if prices aren’t regulated or capped for all private transportation services.
“The people that are going to be prejudiced the most are the most vulnerable members of our community,” Jung said. “The ones that don’t have smartphones, the ones that don’t have credit cards, the ones that will be discriminated (against) because they have a foldable, collapsible wheelchair.”
Dale Evans, president and general manager of Charley’s Taxi, said deregulation would eliminate consumer protection and give ride-hailing companies “a free ride.”
“It reduces everything to who can afford the most,” Evans said.
She added that seniors would not be able to afford surge-pricing fares and may not even own a cellphone.
“Uber’s not going to take care of them because they’re on low or fixed income,” Evans said. “They don’t even have an app, they don’t even have a phone. So who’s taking care of them?”
Although second readings have not been scheduled for either bill, Jung said he will not bother to testify.
Correction: An earlier version of this report incorrectly stated that Evans also said she would not testify.
“Everybody is so discouraged,” Evans said. “We’re fighting a very big monstrosity and no one seems to give a damn.”
But Andrew Pereira, a spokesman for Mayor Kirk Caldwell, said taxi companies already use a form of surge pricing.
“If you notice that you’re siting in a taxicab and you’re not moving the meter is still running and they calculate both time and distance travelled,” Pereira said. “In a way that’s a de facto form of surge pricing, which I think has been lost in this conversation.”
Tabatha Chow, Uber’s senior operations manager for Hawaii said in a statement that the company “looks forward to continued discussions on these important issues.”
“Our focus remains on protecting flexibility for drivers and affordability, reliability and convenience for riders,” Chow said.
The new bills were proposed after Caldwell vetoed Bill 35, which would have limited prices that ride-hailing services can charge through surge pricing.
The bill sparked controversy in May when Uber was accused of price-gouging military service members as they returned to Pearl Harbor from deployments.
Councilwoman Kymberly Pine, a Navy spouse, called for a boycott of Uber and Lyft.
Both companies have said that the practice gives drivers an incentive to stay on the road.
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