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City Hall Meeting Addresses New Transportation Model to Hit Columbus

Wes Burden Wes Burden City Hall Meeting Addresses New Transportation Model to Hit ColumbusPhoto by Walker Evans.
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An agenda meeting held within a packed City Hall Chamber Tuesday night signified the separation between those who support and oppose peer-to-peer transportation within the city of Columbus.

Held in accordance by City Council’s Development Committee, chaired by councilmember Michelle Mills, the meeting was designed to explain the proposed peer-to-peer transportation network services and how changes within the referendum could impact said industry. With the vote on the current issue pending, members of the Department of Public Safety outlined proposed rules and regulations for these services to follow in order to operate within the city of Columbus.

The two main peer-to-peer transportation networks centered in this debate are Uber and Lyft, both of which provide privatized transportation for passengers via mobile applications on any smart phone. As opposed to calling or searching for a taxicab, customers are able to track vehicles and arrange for pickups at specific points within a city. These apps allow users to see where the nearest available car service is and also can provide contact information to reach out to potential service providers.

Dr. Matt Sharples, who is a driver for Lyft, said he enjoys driving in his spare time as he helps provide a service unlike any other in the city.

“Lyft is a business built to innovate and respond to the demand of people in Columbus who are hungry for an opportunity to have a way around town that is fun, entertaining and relaxing,” Sharples said. “We encourage people to have a good time and we create a personal touch that helps to make it an experience for the passenger.”

While some will argue services like this will provide another spark to add to the city’s growing infrastructure, there are many who are opposed to the idea of enabling peer-to-peer services to exist in Columbus. Specifically, consumer advocacy groups and taxi cab groups within the city believe these operations are occurring without proper regulations and whose design will limit an already tight, limited revenue stream within transportation services. Many cab drivers and taxi service owners spoke on behalf of their livelihood and business model, expecting the city to cooperate and side for those who have maintained and created services for the city of Columbus, not waver towards big, innovative privatized companies looking to exploit and steal away customers from locally grown businesses.

John Mazza, lead attorney for the Independent Taxicab Association of Columbus, argued these new transportation services are not only going to take away from business for taxicabs and believes the city has no real evidence as to why they are needed.

“There is an assumption that Columbus needs these new services but where is the data that calls out for or supports such a need existing within our city,” Mazza said. “Allowing these services, while denying the existing taxicab companies and operators to increase the number of taxicabs available, creates an unfair competitive advantage for the peer-to-peer companies and discriminates against existing licensed taxicabs.”

Where some will see discriminatory practices against locally owned businesses, others see innovation and an expanding evolution of services that match the times we live in. Being able to identify, locate and communicate with networks at the touch of two buttons is what separates the dichotomies of being a taxi service and being able to operate a business through the wonders of a smart phone. Some hold an underlying belief that taxicabs are slow, never on time or have a hard time creating an environment that is suitable of direct services with customers. Companies like Lyft or Uber are the new tech kids on the block, and taxicab services represent a business model that could possibly become unsustainable over the course of time.

Paige Thelen, communications coordinator for Lyft, said she is happy the city of Columbus is willing to acknowledge their company and work with them to create a consumer friendly product for its citizens.

“One of the main reasons we saw Columbus as a good fit for Lyft was due to the city’s openness to embrace new technology and innovation,” Thelen said. “We have had productive meetings with city leaders to discuss Lyft’s peer-to-peer business model and commitment to safety, and look forward to continuing a conversation that allows for innovation and consumer choice.”

Plenty of concerns circle the proposed code, and members of the Department of Public Safety were on hand to discuss the specific changes within the chapters of the proposed legislation. Many requirements were addressed throughout the discussion, ranging from obtaining licenses for both registered vehicles and drivers, liability protection covered by the company, background checks going back seven years, mandatory vehicle inspections and maintaining those who work for either of these peer-to-peer transportation networks are not allowed to solicit rides but only allowed to give rides to customers who have requested it.

Councilmember Mills said this proposal has been in the making for a long time and this is the right time for the city of Columbus to address this new type of transportation model.

“We knew this would be the newest, innovative way for transportation within our city,” Mills said. “We are taking a comprehensive approach across the board to make sure passengers are safe and well-informed when trusting their lives with the drivers.”

For more discussion on the regulation of Uber and Lyft, CLICK HERE to visit our Messageboard.

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