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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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  • johnwonderbread

    I’m sorry but I have no sympathy for the cab company’s arguments.

    The need is simple. How many times have you called any one of the cab companies and the one line to get to the one operator is perpetually busy for 10-15 minutes? Then, when you finally get through, you wait in the dark as to when your cab might actually arrive. Every cab I’ve ever called in Columbus has been a wait time of “5 minutes” or “right away”, which actually means 5-30. I don’t care about waiting 20 minutes but don’t make me wait 20 when you said 5 and then when you arrive do a drive by and take off because I was walking out the door of the restaurant/bar/theater/etc and not standing 2 feet off the curb when you pulled up.

    Introduce Uber and Lyft. I press a button on my phone, my card is bound to my account and bills automatically, I get assigned a driver and a very accurate wait time as to when the driver will arrive. When the driver gets to my location, I get a text message letting me know they’re outside. And, if it takes me 30 seconds to get to the sidewalk they don’t drive off and make me restart the whole process again. Lastly, if the driver goes in the wrong direction or I have a bad experience I leave feedback from the app and a customer service representative actually follows up with me – even so far as to refund a portion of my fare if a driver routed “the long way”.

    Hopefully, the cab companies will see the competition and step their game up.

    • Achekov

      My concern is will these companies serve the whole city or only selected areas?

      • DylanH

        They aren’t public transportation companies, so of course they would only serve areas in which they would make money. I don’t think taxis serve the whole of Columbus, either.

  • mbeaumont

    Great article. Thanks for covering this.

    I love using Uber and I don’t have much sympathy for taxi cab companies. They’ve provided a pretty terrible experience for decades and now whine to the city when a more innovative competitor comes along and disrupts their model.

    Evolve and compete like everyone else.

    • Achekov

      The primary complaint is when they are allowed to operate under different rules that the cabs. Cabs have a lot of rules they have to follow, and some of these other services fall through loopholes in the rules.

  • What’s to stop a cab company from updating their services using similar technology?

    There’s got to be a goldmine for some tech startup interesting in launching a platform designed for cabs to utilize.

  • Slainte

    Only have positive things to say regarding to the two weeks I have been using Uber for free. I will happily be converting to a paying cutsomer.

    While I will still utilize the cabs in Columbus, Uber and Lyft are allowing for enhancements to this transportation model. Time to step up cabs!

  • Tyler Bice

    Great article! Sounds like the taxi cab services of Columbus now have some new competition. This could be a breakthrough for this city.

  • Ben_

    In some cities taxis work with Uber to be available through the Uber app. Are the cab companies here not pursuing a partnership because they know they are so unreliable that they would not be able to match the quality of service standards that the p2p companies are providing? The local taxicabs deserve to take a hit to their business, they’re an awful experience in this city.

  • gramarye

    The taxi companies’ attorney does have one good point: One reason that there are so many complaints about cab availability (see even earlier in this thread) is because existing regulations limit the number of taxi cab licenses available. That limit should be removed in order to let the taxi companies compete with car-sharing services on a level playing field.

    • gmcsoccer

      if that is true, i totally agree. there is no reason that there should be a limit on number of taxis. if they can make money, they should be allowed to work the streets.

      i like having the variety of service though. maybe some competition will bring about some reasonableness of service and cost.

  • Ben_

    That’s fair, but the number of taxi medallions does not affect grossly miscalculated arrival times or complete failures to show up for reservations. Limited licenses are not the cause of drivers not using their “available” roof light or make them drive recklessly. I have no problem with raising the limit of taxis licenses, but there are more fundamental problems with the companies that make Columbus taxis miserable to deal with.

  • BrianW

    I’ve been told that Lyft has typically relied on the legal arguement that their payments are “tips” and completely voluntary. They are simply putting together someone who needs a ride, and someone who’s willing to give a ride in their private vehicle. It’s more of a technology for putting people together, than marketing rides. It’s interesting the City is taking issue with this, given Lyft’s success in other markets. I’m sure it’s mostly about political connections and the City wanting their “cut”. Of course, cabs don’t help themselves when they use the most terrible equipment available. I’ve been in cabs with well over 200k miles on the odometer.

    • Achekov

      Once you enable high volume ride-sharing like that it becomes a tax evasion issue. I assume you don’t support tax evasion, since it increases the burden on the rest of us.

  • Mike88

    The cabs in this city are wildly unreliable compared to uber (can’t speak toward lyft).

    An experience that springs immediately to mind is a night about two weeks ago when we needed a ride we called 4 different cab companies and never got an answer, a friend hopped on Uber and a car was at our house in less than 5 minutes. It was shocking the difference in service quality and the quality of the car we rode in. I have to say I will use Uber from here on out unless I’m flagging someone in the street.

    Cab companies would be smart to embrace and adopt this technology.

  • scottth1

    UBER BLACK IS 100% LEGAL. For whatever reason, it appears as though the Cbus Underground team has a problem with Uber based on their constant botching of information related to the Company.

    • The article doesn’t say that either service is illegal to people to use. It says that the way some of the services function may be operating outside of city code. And it sounds like the purpose of the meeting is to address those concerns by possibly updating city code.

      The “CU Team” has no problem with Uber, Lyft, car2go, CoGo, COTA or any other form of alternative transportation. In fact, we promote them all regularly.

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