Now that Gov. Scott Walker has signed into law a bill that exempts app-based transportation companies like Lyft and Uber from municipal taxicab regulations, a Republican lawmaker is ready to take it a step further. An aide to Sen. Steve Nass says his boss is talking with taxicab companies about ways they could also operate under relaxed rules.
Mike Mikalsen confirms that Nass, of Whitewater, would be open to deregulating the taxicab industry statewide, but says “that is a fight for another day.”
“It’s unlikely at this point that you would see a complete preemption of local control for what we call the standard taxicab services,” says Mikalsen. “At this time there doesn’t seem to be a desire to do that, even on the part of the taxicab companies per se.”
Mikalsen says that Nass, who co-sponsored the bill exempting transportation network companies from municipal taxicab regulations, promised taxicab owners there would be opportunity for follow-up. “We did say when they came in and raised some concerns over the Uber/Lyft statewide bill, that if it were signed into law there would be a process — if they wanted to have a discussion — to allow them to be treated in a similar manner for similar services. Steve did say he’d be willing to look at that.”
Mikalsen says Nass has had some discussions with industry representatives, but taxicab owners are also talking among themselves on a way to move forward.
“We’re still waiting to hear back from them that they definitely want to do something on that front.”
Mikalsen says the focus of talks so far has been on whether traditional taxicab companies could now offer services similar to Uber and Lyft outside of the municipality where they are licensed.
He says the matter could be addressed in an amendment to the Uber/Lyft law or in a separate bill. Mikalsen says some of the things that need to be addressed are whether the companies would operate a separate workforce, use their current vehicles or switch to Uber and Lyft’s private vehicle model. “Those are the things they’re discussing amongst themselves.”
But Gary Goyke, lobbyist for the Wisconsin Association of Taxicab Owners, seems to be on a different page. He says his organization is looking for a bill that would clarify, amend or change the law just signed by Walker. “It is ridiculous for us to go forward without involving local communities,” he says. “There needs to be further analysis of the issues that have erupted in other states.”
Drivers with transportation network companies have been implicated in deadly accidents, assaults, sexual assaults and kidnappings. In late April, two women in Madison reported being inappropriately touched by Uber drivers during their respective rides.
Goyke says providing services to the elderly and disabled also needs to be a “huge part of the discussion.” Madison regulations require taxicab companies to provide service to all parts of the city around the clock. But the new state law exempts services like Uber and Lyft from these requirements. It also spells out that only electronic payments can be made to these companies.
Goyke says it’s “just ridiculous” that the bill prohibits the use of cash in app-based services. “I don’t know what the numbers are, but I would say in some inner-city districts and rural districts [around the state], there are probably a lot of people who do not have a credit card,” he says.
Goyke is “hopeful” of bringing people together in the Capitol for a “drafting session” that would include representatives of “municipalities, the elderly, disabled, the taxi companies, other specialized services, people who are concerned about civil and legal justice issues.”
Uber, like Lyft, is based in San Francisco. “Uber has no corporate presence in this state,” says Goyke. “We want to find out what is best for Wisconsin. Not what is best for Uber.”
The new state law signed by Walker imposes minimal standards on transportation network companies (TNC), defined in the bill as a “business that, for compensation, uses a digital network to connect passengers to participating drivers for the purpose of providing transportation network services to those passengers.” It does not include a “taxicab, limousine, shuttle or other for-hire service.”
Companies need to be licensed by the state Department of Safety and Professional Services, pay a fee of $5,000, and renew their licenses every two years. There are no state licensing requirements for drivers, who are hired as independent contractors.
The companies must maintain liability insurance, conduct criminal background checks on drivers and review their driving history. Sex offenders, habitual traffic offenders and people with drunken driving convictions are barred from employment.
Companies are required to disclose their fare calculation method online, inform passengers of the rates and make available a photo of the driver and a license plate number before a passenger enters the vehicle.
The bill quickly passed both houses of the Legislature with bipartisan support late last month.
Days before Walker signed the bill, Christina Ballard, a spokeswoman for Union Cab and Cab Drivers for Madison Safety, was still hoping for a gubernatorial veto. But local companies were preparing nevertheless. Ballard says all four taxicab companies will soon have an app, and there is a plan to also create a single citywide app that would cover all four entities.
She acknowledges that it would help cab companies’ bottom lines to be able to operate like Uber and Lyft. But she says her group is “concerned about the community and consumers. And the majority of the regulations that exist are there for consumer protection and to ensure transportation equity.”
The requirement to provide 24/7 service, for instance, is in place for people who rely on public transportation, she notes. “After the buses stop running there is nothing they can do.”
“We want people to be aware that regulations are in place to protect the community. We don’t want that to go away.” But, she adds, looking “five, 10 years down the road and TNC’s become the norm, fleet size [of traditional taxicab companies] is diminished and people are losing their jobs, we’ll have to take into consideration whether deregulation is something we want to push for.”
Mayor Paul Soglin has fought hard to force Uber and Lyft to conform to the city’s taxicab license regulations since the two companies began operating in the city last year. Now that there is a new law that sets statewide standards for these kinds of services, the city is reviewing its options, says Soglin.
“I don’t know what they are,” he says. “We know what our goals are. Our goals are to keep the safe and legitimate taxicab companies viable and to protect the interest of the consumers.”
Soglin rejects arguments by Mikalsen and others that Lyft and Uber represent the “new” or “modern” economy.
“This is not a new economic model,” he says. “It’s an economic model that is thousands of years old. It’s the model that was used for modern-day colonialism. It’s the model that was used by the Roman conquerors...serfdom, the utilization of migrant workers and other forms of indentured servitude.”
Its one modern twist, adds Soglin, is “another change in technology.”
“But these technological advances have been made for thousands of years, and utilized by the rich and powerful to exploit the labor they controlled as well as consumers.”