Sept. 17 2014 12:00 AM

Small taxi operations could be eliminated with new regional taxi authority

A taxi authority that began with a goal of regulating ride share services like Uber could end up adopting rules that squeeze out the little guy.

The Greater Lansing Taxi Authority, already approved by East Lansing and awaiting the Lansing vote, would consolidate regulations and licensing for cabs and ride shares in both cities. Officials say the effort will improve service quality and ensure the safety of riders.

East Lansing Mayor Nathan Triplett said there were a “wide variety of different com plaints” ranging from unreliable cab service during the day, to not being able to get a cab at the airport to poor quality of service.

The rules would require annual vehicle inspections, background checks and minimum insurance requirements. Cab companies would be required to have at least three vehicles and meters on all vehicles (which could be actual or a smart phone app). Ride share services would be required to send electronic receipts and only take rides booked through a digital platform.

Under the current system, a car that operates in Lansing and East Lansing must be licensed in both jurisdictions. The new authority would allow taxi companies to pay one fee to license a car within both municipalities.

East Lansing is the “center of the taxi universe” in this region, said Lansing´s deputy chief of staff Randy Hannan.

Because of the university, it attracts most of the cab traffic and has more strict licensing and regulations than Lansing. East Lansing already requires criminal background checks, and drug checks and has higher licensing fees.

Lansing scheduled a public hear ing Monday about the authority, after Councilwoman Kathie Dunbar requested time to give taxi companies and ride-sharing services the chance to comment.

"I´m supportive of the concept of regional licensing, but I think it´s only fair that we allow taxi owners, Uber drivers, and riders the opportunity to comment on how they will be affected by new regulations," Dunbar said.

Woodrow Campbell, owner of Green Cab, said he welcomes safety regulations but would prefer Lansing and East Lansing ban Uber altogether.

“I’m concerned about a level playing field,” Campbell said. He said he doesn’t see why ride shares should have separate rules from taxis.

Taxis have to have their cars licensed and drivers must pass a drug test. Uber drivers will have an inspection but don’t have to license their vehicles as cabs and they company they work for has to have a zerotolerance drug policy.

Hannan said the arrival of Uber into the market triggered the creation of the authority.

“This will be good for customers too,” Hannan said. “It will set standards in terms of things like rates posted in the cabs. Some have no rates posted, or some have a vague handwritten thing that says what their rates are."

Regulating ride shares seemed a better solution than banning, officials said.

“Communities can fight innovation and force the square peg of ride share into the round hole of taxi regulation,” Triplett said. “We have chosen to embrace it.”

Any new regulations won´t go into effect until 2015.

Campbell is also concerned for "mom and pop" operations.

"Why are we denying them the chance to make that income? To me that’s just cruel," Campbell said.

According to the East Lansing city web site, there are 31 cab companies. The number with solely one vehicle was not immediately available.

But in Lansing, where there are nine cab companies licensed, five have one licensed vehicle, three have only two.

Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope said the companies could have more vehicles in other cities or be operating more cars in Lansing illegally.

Felix Campos owns and operates Felix the Cab, a one-man, one-cab operation in Lansing.

But he doubts the authority will shut one-person operations down. But, he e said he would buy more cars if he had to.

“I run the streets,” he said. “I’m the best cab driver in Lansing.”

Triplett said, “There are certainly some individuals right now who will not be able to operate like that in the future They will have to either join others or expand their fleet.”

The authority is a feather in the cap of regionalism for mid-Michigan.

“This is really the first example of joint licensing in our area,” Triplett said. “There is nothing like it in the area or the state.”

Public hearing on Greater Lansing Taxi Authority

When: Monday, Sept. 22, 7 p.m. Where: Lansing City Hall, 124 W. Michigan Avenue