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Sarasota Monday, Sep. 14, 2015 7 years ago

City prepares to formalize taxi deregulation

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Following last week’s decision to preserve Uber service in Sarasota and remove regulations on taxis, city staff is working on implementing the changes.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

Sarasota Parking Manager Mark Lyons wants to clear up any potential confusion: He’s not opposed to Uber operating in the city, and he’s not going to stand in the way of the city’s decision to deregulate taxi services.

Lyons was one of the staff members responsible for drafting an ordinance imposing standards on transportation network companies such as Uber. In certain areas, he suggested making the city’s regulations regarding all vehicles for hire more stringent, and he was skeptical of Uber’s campaign for a more lax ordinance.

Rather than approve even Uber-endorsed regulations for transportation network companies, the City Commission’s attempt to level the playing field meant deregulating all vehicles for hire, including taxis.

When he helped put together the rejected Uber ordinance, Lyons said he was acting on the direction of the commission. Now that they’ve chosen another course, he says he will work on implementing that missive.

“At this stage, their direction is to completely deregulate, and that would mean everything,” Lyons said.

That’s not to say the matter is entirely settled. Lyons points out that, before the existing taxicab regulations can be repealed, the commission will have to hold public hearings on the matter. As he was researching potential regulations for Uber, Lyons said he didn’t come across any cases in which a city chose to repeal all of its regulations regarding vehicles for hire.

“I’ve never heard of that, and I’ve been doing a lot of research and communication,” Lyons said. “I think it’s unprecedented, and I think we have to watch it very closely.”

In Portland, city officials have deregulated taxis to accommodate the service of companies such as Uber — on a trial basis, at least. During that trial period, a task force has monitored the vehicles-for-hire industry and outlined some potential regulations for future consideration.

City Attorney Robert Fournier said he wasn’t aware of any municipalities that had removed existing regulations when he suggested that as an option at a Sept. 8 commission meeting. Still, he did know that many jurisdictions — including Sarasota County — did not regulate vehicles for hire.

Fournier said there are some state minimum requirements regarding insurance for taxi operators. Based on the commission’s actions on Sept. 8, Fournier said he didn’t anticipate any other rules remaining on the books at a local level  — such as Lyons’ recommendation that transportation network services be restricted from increasing their rates in the wake of a natural disaster.

“I did, I think, allude to the possibility you didn’t have to regulate everything — that you could do the (background checks) but not the insurance, for example.” Fournier said. “They didn’t seem to want to do that.”

City Commissioner Susan Chapman has asked for further discussion on a notice to the public regarding the deregulation — a sort of warning that “you’re on your own,” she said. Fournier said that, from a liability standpoint, the city shouldn’t be in any danger with or without that notice.

“Otherwise, all these jurisdictions without regulations would be in the same situation,” Fournier said.

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