In a world where a cheap ride is as easy as tapping a button on your smartphone, Pismo Beach is looking to even the playing field for local taxi drivers.
The City Council is considering reducing licensing and permitting fees for taxi companies and drivers in an effort to help traditional taxi companies compete against app-based ride sharing companies like Uber and Lyft.
The council discussed the topic at its March 7 regular meeting.
Currently, the city requires traditional taxi services and their drivers to apply for permits, operating licenses, and submit to vehicle inspections, background checks, and renew some of them on an annual basis. Fees to stay compliant with those regulations can range anywhere from $112 for a vehicle inspection, to anywhere from $215 to $486 for a new permit or background check.
In contrast Pismo Beach City Attorney Dave Fleishman said that ride share services like Uber and Lyft conduct their own driver vetting and background checks internally. Currently, they operate in the city, but aren’t regulated, and don’t pay those municipal fees.
“It’s almost like we are penalizing the people who are doing it right,” said City Councilwoman Marcia Guthrie.
Samuel Orr, owner of Central Coast Taxi, said he respected the process of permitting and vetting taxi drivers, but said the fees could be prohibitive, especially for new drivers, as the cost to get started with an app-based ride share service is often cheaper.
“In the beginning, it could be a few hundred bucks up front ... that’s what makes it hard to find drivers,” Orr said.
The app-based ride sharing services like Lyft and Uber are technically operating in violation of the city’s municipal ordinances, which is a misdemeanor. But enforcing violations is difficult and would require the city to seek subpoenas from the parent companies each time a violation came to court, Fleishman said.
Instead of trying to crack down on the unregulated services, the council directed staff to come back to them at a later date with further information and a recommendation to possibly reduce fees for taxi companies like Orr’s. Pismo Beach Mayor Ed Waage also supported the strategy. At the meeting, the mayor voiced his support for local cab companies.
“I, for one, prefer a real cab company as opposed to Lyft or Uber,” Waage said. “I like to know what I’m getting into.”