Recently a coed at the University of South Carolina was killed after getting into a car she mistook for her Uber ride. This tragedy occurred 5,000 miles away, but it’s sending a clear message to us here in Hawaii.

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The Hawaii Legislature is considering legislation that would establish statewide regulations for drivers and cars operating as part of a transportation network company such as Uber and Lyft.

Noticeably absent from the proposed regulations is any language that would require TNCs to display signage or a decal identifying themselves as an Uber or Lyft vehicle.

Taxis, on the other hand, must carry a dome light on top of the car and the company name on the sides to make them easy to identify.

The failure to require TNCs to carry signage is one of many deficiencies in the regulations the state is now considering. It’s also one more example of a longtime bias against taxis.

Since 2016, the City and County of Honolulu has systematically deconstructed Hawaii’s taxi ordinances. The city euphemistically describes this process as “creating a level playing field.” The idea is that in a city with no regulations, taxis and TNCs would be able to participate in free and open competition.

All this newfound freedom opened the gates for Uber and Lyft to operate in Honolulu, but it also threw consumer safety under the bus. The city essentially turned a blind eye to the regulatory framework that for years governed taxi operators and protected consumers against unscrupulous practices such as price gouging, long-hauling, uninsured drivers, and allowing drivers to work without passing a comprehensive criminal background check.

Transportation network companies are changing the local industry — unfairly, say traditional taxi companies. Flickr:

As one bill after another was passed, consumer safeguards were peeled away to the point where, today, consumers have little in the way of protection when they ride with Uber or Lyft.

After the city worked so hard to tear down the regulatory framework so Uber and Lyft can compete with taxis, you might think it would be hypocritical for the state to create new regulations that would prevent taxi companies from competing with Uber and Lyft.

But that’s exactly what House Bill 1093 HD2 seeks to do.

In fact, serious questions must be asked as to the constitutionality of HB 1093 HD2, which taxi companies and others view as discriminatory and anti-competitive.

HB 1093 HD2 discriminates because it defines a TNC company as “not a taxicab association or a for-hire vehicle owner.” It further defines a TNC vehicle as “not a taxicab, limousine, or other for-hire vehicle.”

What about my company, AllWays Charley’s?

AllWays Charley’s is a city-licensed TNC, a separate entity from Charley’s Taxi. It operates using a digital network or software application to connect passengers to drivers, just as Uber and Lyft do.

But with this legislation, AllWays Charley’s would not meet the definition of a TNC, and would not be treated in accordance with the same advantageous regulations afforded TNCs.

What about other taxi and limousine companies that may want to transition to become a TNC? Apparently they would have to start over from scratch.

In effect, it’s as if the city and state are trying to drive taxis out of business by changing the laws to allow Uber and Lyft to under-price taxi and limousine fares.

Taxis, Limos Excluded

Taxi fleets have already been reduced to about half their size just a few years ago, and now the Legislature is maneuvering to exclude taxis and limousines from operating as TNCs.

HB 1093 HD2 is anti-competitive because it does not require TNCs to adhere to the Motor Carrier Law, as taxis must.

Under HB 1093 HD2, Uber and Lyft drivers would be required to carry $50,000 to $100,000 in personal auto liability coverage per accident, and $25,000 in property damage coverage. This is less than half of what is required of taxis. TNCs provide their drivers with liability coverage of $1 million when there are passengers in the car.

But there’s a catch.

Uber and Lyft do not provide this coverage when drivers are logged off their app, and state regulations will not require them to do so. So if your driver closes the app with you in the car, or his phone battery runs out, the only coverage available to you will be the driver’s personal auto insurance and uninsured motorist coverage.

Consumers have little in the way of protection when they ride with Uber or Lyft.

Personal auto insurance rarely covers an at-fault driver who causes an accident while operating a motor vehicle for a fee.

To make matters worse, the driver may not have insurance coverage at all. The Insurance Research Council estimates that more than one out of 10 Hawaii drivers are uninsured. And while HB 1093 HD2 does require that TNC drivers carry personal auto insurance, there is no enforcement mechanism in place to determine whether there is primary coverage as required.

Insurance is important not only because it affects the safety of kamaaina, but also because Uber and Lyft are carrying a growing number of visitors to the islands.

Conveniently, the TNCs are exempt from filing individual Certificates of Insurance per vehicle or having to furnish the city and DOT Airports Division with a list of all vehicles and VIN numbers of TNC vehicles operating at any given time.

There are imposters picking up fares at the airport that are not signed up with Uber and Lyft. But airport officials and security have no clue who they are because most of the vehicles picking up in the Ride Sharing zone have no Uber or Lyft signage or decal, no airport permit decal, and no airport transponder as required of all taxi, limousine and bus operators at the airport.

Taxi drivers struggle to understand why the city and now the state seem so anxious to give the TNCs what they want. The city says Uber and Lyft are the future. Perhaps that’s true. But are we powerless to have any say in how that future unfolds? Must we rely on the mercy of the TNCs to do what’s best for Hawaii’s consumers?

Instead of encouraging a race to the top, where quality and safety are paramount, why do we keep passing legislation that accelerates a race to the bottom?

I encourage the conference committees responsible for HB 1093 HD2 to shelve the bill until the issues pertaining to consumer safety and to its unconstitutionality can be properly addressed and the bill amended to create a safe and fair outcome for all of us in Hawaii’s transportation industry.

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