Transportation Network Companies Continue Their Fight to Operate
On Monday, May 11, Nevada senators passed a bill that would allow ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft to operate in Nevada. The “Uber Bill,” as it is referred to, had already failed twice in the Nevada Legislature this year but was brought back to life for the third time predominantly due to the many changes made to the bill. This time the measure was heavily amended to incorporate additional regulations of these “transportation network companies” (TNCs) and included a proposal to raise tens of millions of dollars to help the state budget deficit.
Uber operated only briefly last fall in Nevada before a judge issued a restraining order against the company, saying it wasn’t following taxicabs rules. Uber halted their operation to solicit permission from the Legislature to re-enter the market under an alternative framework. The biggest concern of the original legislation, Senate Bill 439, was the issue over public safety. The old Uber Bill had failed to get the 14 votes needed back in April. However, in a supposedly unrelated event also in April this year, the state Assembly passed AB 175, relating to requirements for passengers to wear seat belts in taxicabs. After reaching the Senate, AB 175 was transformed into the new “Uber bill,” once a number of provisions were made. The old bill, for example, would have charged 25 cents for each “ride-hailing” trip, the amended version now adds 3% tax to all these TNC trips as well as to all taxicab fares.
Senators voted 18-1 for the newly amended Uber Bill which would create regulations for TNCs that allow people to hail a ride using a smartphone. In addition the newer projection showed the tax would raise about $72 million, enough to provide funding to the Nevada Highway Fund and to fully-fund a new medical school at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and potentially more budget items.
The bill that has been called the most-lobbied of the session, with herds of lobbyists representing Uber and the opposing cab and limousine companies, now heads to the Assembly, where it is scheduled for a hearing before the Ways and Means Committee. Uber officials are expected to make a full-court press to garner support for the bill’s passage.
On the other hand, taxicab and limousine industry representatives are fighting the bill claiming Uber is trying to avoid regulation and attempting to circumvent the demanding standards for taxicabs. The Nevada Taxicab Authority and Nevada Transportation Authority are fighting that the Public Utilities Commission, the regulatory body overseeing these TNCs, “does not have regulatory enforcement officers to enforce transportation regulations.” For example the Commission can’t cite taxi drivers for illegally diverting or long-hauling passengers and taxicab and transportation authorities expect Metro police will have to respond to a range of calls from traffic accidents to disputes between passengers and Uber drivers.
Officials at Uber countered by indicating that the Public Utilities Commission would in fact set up its own enforcement system as the governments in states like Colorado and California have. Uber also claims that its drivers undergo background checks before hire, “better than the FBI’s.” Their background checks include county, federal and multistate checks, including checks into criminal history and sex offender databases and background checks are repeated every three years with driving records checked annually. In addition, drivers would be required to have liability insurance of at least $1.5 million for death or bodily injury that occurs while transporting passengers.
As if this third time resuscitated bill was not enough excitement, Uber seems to also be working on a driverless car. Considering Nevada was the first state to authorize autonomous vehicles or “driverless cars,” this new development can prove to be quite interesting as it stands to advance Uber’s mission of bringing “safe, reliable transportation to everyone, everywhere,” as stated in their company blog, February 2, 2015.
Uber is joining the big race, with giant automakers and tech companies who have already invested heavily on R&D. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has indicated that the company would adopt driverless cars in an effort to reduce the cost to consumers.
However some experts say driverless cars are still a ways away given the high cost of producing these autonomous vehicles and a lack of regulation. Read more of the pros and cons of driverless cars.