Two council committees began hearings on the possible entrance of Uber and Lyft, two ridesharing services that use apps to attract customers. City Council chambers were packed, mainly with supporters of established taxi and limousine companies.
Council members heard a comprehensive study by Administration and Regulatory Affairs on proposed changes to ordinances related to vehicles for hire.
Tina Paez chairs the ARA:
"Our primary initiative here is the improvement of the taxicab industry. So we had brought in an expert to study them. And during the time of the study, we suddenly had the apps come on the horizon. And, so we were asked to come in and present our findings on the state of that, however it is. Many of them didn't enter until 2012, so there's very little data available. So we were just asked to present what was available as of now, and to give different proposals as to what council can do now."
Uber and Lyft say they're providing free rides right now in Houston to avoid regulation. But there's been one instance where a Lyft driver was cited for charging for a ride.
"If you're charging a fare for a ride in Houston, then you're a vehicle for hire and there are certain rules for those. And neither Lyft, nor Uber-X right now could come in because there's actually nothing, no language for them in the ordinance. So they'd be operating as an illegal taxicab."
The committee heard from Robert Miller, a Houston attorney representing Uber Technologies.
"I have no doubt that Uber-Black will ultimately operate in Houston. Seventy-seven cities world-wide allow Uber to compete. Why not Houston? To allow Uber-Black to legally operate in Houston, I urge you to eliminate the $70 dollar minimum fare, and to eliminate the requirement that limousine transportation be pre-arranged 30 minutes in advance."
Committee members also heard from local limousine company owners like former state lawmaker Roman Martinez.
"It's very frustrating when we have put up so much investment into this city, and you know what I say to the Uber-Xs and the Lyfts? I say, 'Get out of our streets.'
Ya'll passed rules and regulations a year ago — this last December — getting ready for these guys to come into town. Now they're coming in and saying, 'Oh change it just for our favor.'
No, let's get them out of the streets."
The city's established transportation companies claim that the new services, which rely on non-professional drivers using their own vehicles, don't provide the needed safeguards to protect the public.
Hearings will continue next month.