Indianapolis officials are considering whether to loosen rules on traditional taxi companies so they can be more competitive with ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft.
This week, a City-County Council committee agreed to create a task force to blanket the local hospitality industry and study the issue.
Under the Uber and Lyft models, drivers use their personal vehicles to pick up passengers, who summon rides via a smartphone app. Both Uber and Lyft, which are generally described as transportation network companies, operate in Indianapolis.
Companies like Uber and Lyft have their own rules for drivers. Both companies require background checks, for instance. But these companies don’t have to abide by the local “vehicle for hire” rules that govern Indianapolis’ traditional taxi operators.
Last summer, the Indiana General Assembly passed a law that spelled out the requirements for transportation network companies seeking to operate in the state. The law requires that drivers, for instance, undergo a background check and carry minimum levels of insurance.
But the state law also prohibits local government entities from enacting their own regulations on transportation network companies.
During a meeting of the City-County Council’s Rules and Public Policy Committee on Tuesday, City-County Councilor Vop Osili said local cab drivers feel they are facing “a very unlevel playing field” in comparison with transportation network companies.
Osili said he’s met with local drivers numerous times in the past year to discuss the issue.
“[Taxis are] a really important industry to our tourism industry, and I do believe that it needs to be vibrant and strong and that we cut away some of the burdens that may be on those businesses,” Osili told the committee.
Osili said some of the city’s existing taxi regulations are anachronistic or overly burdensome, while others might not be necessary at all.
Current city regulations, for instance, require that taxi companies operate a fleet of at least 20 vehicles and operate a central office staffed 24 hours a day.
Another rule requires all cabs to be installed with two-way radios, which Osili called unnecessary in the cell-phone age.
The municipal code also specifies driver dress codes (collared shirts are required, sandals are banned) and appearance standards (hair must be neatly groomed).
“I’m not sure that those actually need to be in our regulations,” Osili told the committee.
Osili acknowledged that he’s spoken only with a small group of people. Getting input from a larger group of stakeholders would help officials better understand the issue, he said.
“There may be other items that we have not considered at all,” Osili said.
The committee agreed to form a task force to consider the issue. Members would include representatives from a variety of organizations including the taxi industry, hospitality, travel/tourism, public officials and others.
The issue will come up for discussion again at the committee’s Nov. 1 meeting, giving time for a task force to form and meet.