UBER and a House Study Committee: Could Regulation be on the Horizon?

Popular ride share services such as Uber and Lyft have recently reshaped the contours of the taxicab industry by allowing individuals with a car, a license, and liability insurance to give rides to anyone that has the free phone app necessary to submit a request. Ride-sharing often costs much less than hailing a traditional taxi, and money is exchanged through a credit card over the phone so drivers do not have to carry cash. Every driver is also rated by the riders so that riders only choose trustworthy drivers. Costs are much less for ride share rides because the ride share services are not required to pay for expensive medallions, train their drivers to drive taxis, or deal with a lot of the overhead that comes with running a traditional taxi service.

During the 2014 Session, House Bill 907 was introduced to require ride-share services and ride referral services to comply with the same restrictions that the state currently places on the taxicab industry. It would have imposed on them the same medallion, training, taxing, and insurance requirements imposed on the taxicab industry, which would undoubtedly increase the cost of ride sharing. HB 907 received tremendous pushback from not only Uber, but citizens in the Metro Region, who were surprised at the attempt to regulate a service that, based on many reviews and comments, was far superior to the traditional taxi cab model.

The future feasibility and cost effectiveness of Uber and other ride-share services could also be affected by a House Study Committee created this legislative session by HB 1805. The Study Committee is tasked with examining the for-hire transportation industry in Georgia (among other things) – in essence, it will again look at Uber, under the guise of public safety, and potentially propose to regulate their services much like the traditional taxi service is regulated today.

Cloaking itself in the guise of safety, HB 907 would have established a roadblock in Atlanta’s path to becoming a city that supports innovation. The birthplace of many start-ups including Scoutmob, MailChimp, and AirWatch, Atlanta has began to establish itself as the tech capital of the Southeast. While Uber and Lyft are San Francisco companies, they are both considered to be on the cutting edge of ride-share technology.

Bills that create burdensome regulations for innovative companies trying to break into the Atlanta market may stifle the city’s momentum as a leader of innovation in the Southeast. To continue to foster this spirit of innovation, the current House study committee tasked with examining Uber and its counterparts should examine a de-regulation of the industry to allow competition on an even playing field and loosen the government regulations, rather than exploring options for increased regulations and restrictions.

Uber sent the Council this example of their impact in the Metro Region:

“Before Uber launched in Atlanta, getting a cab from Sandy Springs to Midtown meant a phone call followed by a potential 30-minute wait, and then you were lucky if the taxi accepted your credit card. Uber has turned that 30-minute wait into just a few minutes, added more transparency, and has made the need for cash obsolete. Uber is celebrating its 2nd birthday in the city and we couldn’t be prouder about the impact we’ve made.

Uber partners with local transportation providers to offer the safest, most reliable and convenient ride — an option that did not exist before Uber. For our hallmark UberBLACK service, we partner commercially licensed and insured transportation providers to deliver your stylish, luxury ride. UberX, our ridesharing platform, is our lowest-cost transportation option in Atlanta. Every uberX partner completes a stringent background and driving record check, and is provided up to $1 million in commercial liability coverage for any accident. Riders and drivers also rate each other and provide comments at the end of each trip as part of our ongoing feedback loop to ensure the best possible experience.

We’ve brought an unprecedented level of safety, transparency and accountability to transportation in Atlanta. Atlantans want innovative transportation options that are as forward-looking as our amazing city. These options are good for consumers, who gain access to safer, more reliable and affordable transportation alternatives, and for drivers, who are provided greater opportunities to start their own business and make a living. Riders and drivers alike deserve improved transportation alternatives and increased opportunity. To ensure a strong future and economic growth, we should listen to people of Atlanta and craft legislation that embraces more choice and opportunity, and allows for safer, more convenient ways to move around the city.”

Representative John Carson (R) had this to say regarding the Study Committee:  “This study committee will be meeting this fall, and I am keeping an open mind. However, just because Georgia regulates one industry (taxis and limos) but not another (Uber and other similar services), I don’t think we should immediately decide to regulate both.  Why not deregulate both?  I believe less government is best, but as I said I’ll reserve judgment until further research and listening to testimony.”

The Council agrees with the statement by Representative Carson and would encourage members of the General Assembly to consider the economic impact has on the Metro Region.