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San Antonio City Council has its first hearing on Uber and Lyft

Sounds pretty familiar.

Chief William McManus said Wednesday that the Police Department might impound vehicles belonging to Lyft and Uber drivers if they continue to violate the city’s regulations for vehicles for hire, such as taxis and limos.

The city has cited 10 drivers for Lyft and Uber for providing a taxi or chauffeurlike service, McManus told the City Council Public Safety Committee.

The citations, which could result in fines of up to $500, were issued because the drivers are charging for rides, he said, which makes them subject to the city’s ordinance.


Since they started operating here in March, neither company had been charging for rides in order to avoid running afoul of the law, but now both said they are.

At the crowded council committee meeting Wednesday, taxi and limo company representatives, many wearing yellow shirts with the words “Licensed. Insured. Legal,” complained that Lyft and Uber just are trying to skirt the city rules that taxis and limos must follow.

The controversy now will go before a task force, which will determine if and how the city’s ordinance could be revised to allow Lyft and Uber — which McManus calls transportation network companies instead of ridesharing services — to operate legally in San Antonio.

The task force, which would include the taxi and limo industries, the ridesharing companies and the Transportation Advisory Board, will meet with city staff and report back to the council in August.

Leandre Johns, general manager of Uber in San Antonio, called the creation of the task force a “positive development” and indicated the company has no plans to stop operations in the meantime.

He confirmed Wednesday that the company started charging passengers recently.


In a presentation to council members, Steve Baum, the assistant police director who oversees ground transportation, said the ordinance, as written, does not distinguish between a company that “connects” drivers and passengers, as Lyft and Uber say they do, and one that dispatches, like a taxi service.

He suggested the council adjust the ordinance to allow for ridesharing and to level the playing field for all vehicles for hire.

Most of the council members on the committee supported creation of the task force, but some were hesitant to revise the ordinance, which was amended in August.

Council members also raised concerns that Lyft and Uber are refusing to follow existing regulations.

So they went rogue in San Antonio, too. You know that I’ve been generally supportive of the efforts by Uber and Lyft to enter the market in Houston and San Antonio. I think they fill a niche, I think they’ll expand the market rather than steal business from the legacy cab companies, and I still can’t see any argument for keeping them out. I believe Houston is on the right track with its draft ordinance. And yet with all that, I just cannot understand their engagement strategies. I don’t get flouting the law, or claiming it doesn’t apply to you. Just play it down the middle, make your case for the technology and the free(ish) market, and do the legwork. You’d think their venture capital investors would have put a higher priority on smoothing out the local hurdles.

By the way, as long as I’m talking about better engagement strategies, I should note that Lyft is having a community meeting in Montrose tonight from 6 to 8 to rally support for their efforts. Details here if you’re interested.

Finally, I have no idea what Chief McManus is thinking with that threat to impound vehicles. Seriously? Lawsuit waiting to happen, that’s all I can say.

Here’s the Rivard Report with some more details.

Lyft and Uber drivers are not required to pay fees associated with vehicle for hire operations, obtain expensive commercial insurance, commercial licenses, or go through as extensive training/verification processes required by law. There also is a cap on how many vehicles for hire can operate in San Antonio, another aspect that may come under review by the task force.

It is, in effect, less expensive for Uber and Lyft drivers to operate by circumventing the requirements of the ordinance.

District 5 City Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales expressed concern over revisiting an ordinance that has just been through a 10-year analysis and overhaul concluding in August 2013.

“I still feel like we haven’t come to any good conclusions,” she said. “I just don’t know that a working group will uncover anything that already has been … I’d be uncomfortable,” with back-tracking the work done previously to the ordinance.

During that process, however, there was no such thing as a “rideshare” app in Texas. The startups were just starting to gain traction in California. “We were not a part of that conversation … We weren’t even conceived of,” said Uber Dallas General Manager Leandre Johns after the meeting. “These regulations don’t apply (to Uber).”

Johns said Uber is looking forward to being a part of the conversation about changing the ordinance, but that Uber will continue to operate and violate the current ordinance in San Antonio. When asked if Uber would be telling their drivers about the ordinance and citations after the meeting, Johns said no. ”We haven’t received a cease and desist order yet.”


SAPD Assistant Director Steven Baum gave a presentation of SAPD and TAB research gathered since April.

“A majority of cities have taken a middle ground,” Baum said. They don’t outright ban TNCs, but they don’t let them operate without some sort of regulation. “The transportation industry is changing … if concessions are made for one (type of company), we’d do them for all.

“The permitting process, licence process, driver qualifications …. those standards are fixed across the industry.”

District 10 Councilman Mike Gallagher voiced a concern that there might be a “relaxing” of standards to accommodate Lyft and Uber.

Relaxed is the wrong word, Baum said. “Changing the manner in which we ensure the standard is met” is more accurate.

Dozens of advocates on both sides spoke passionately in City Council Chambers to more than 100 people in the room at the peak of the meeting.

Reading from a prepared statement, 80/20 Foundation Deputy Director Scott Meltzer said the real issue was San Antonio’s lack of ”robust consumer choice options in transportation,” and how these new companies fill that gap.

“Ridesharing companies, such as Lyft and Uber, are becoming part of the menu (that) talent is looking at when they research the qualities of a city,” Metzer said.

I think that’s a bit of an overbid, but I don’t think it’s that far off. A lot can happen between now and August, so we’ll see how this plays out. The Current has more.

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One Comment

  1. stewart resmer says:

    #playbytherules sound familiar?