Plan to ease local taxi regulations heading to City-County Council for vote

An Indianapolis City-County Council committee has advanced a proposal that calls for easing some regulations on the city’s taxicab drivers, two years after forming a commission to study the issue.

The Rules and Public Policy Committee on Tuesday unanimously voted in favor of referring the measure with a “do pass” recommendation to the full council when it next meets Dec. 9.

The proposal aims to relax several long-standing regulations that put taxi companies at a disadvantage compared with ride-sharing companies Uber and Lift, which don’t have to comply with the same standards.

The measure as written extends the licensing period for public vehicles for hire from one year to two, a change that should save drivers hundreds of dollars each year. It also removes a requirement that companies must have a physical dispatch center and updates criminal history requirements to allow those who aren’t serious, violent offenders to drive taxis.

The proposal also eliminates “antiquated and unenforceable” dress code requirements, allows drivers to charge a fee when they must clean a passenger’s bodily fluids from their car, and reduces the required fleet size from 20 to five to make it easier for companies to enter the market.

The changes to the city’s code were recommended by a commission—whose members include representatives from the city, law enforcement, the taxi industry and the hospitality industry—that has spent the past two years studying the issue after the City-County Council became concerned with the shrinking number of licensed taxi-drivers in Indianapolis. From 2013 to 2016, that number dropped 31%, from 917 to 632. It’s fallen even more since then, to 451.

The city doesn’t regulate Uber, Lyft or other tech-savvy companies that use apps to connect riders directly with drivers. That’s because state law prohibits local governments from regulating those services. The situation has created a two-tier system that taxi drivers say puts them at a disadvantage.

State law sets minimal rules regarding insurance, driver qualifications and consumer protections for the app-based companies, but otherwise allows the market to dictate their operations.

However, taxi companies operating in Indianapolis must comply with a host of regulations governing everything from the color schemes of vehicles to how much drivers can charge and where they can live.

The disparity in how the two groups are regulated is what the city hopes to address through the changes.

The commission also considered how a centralized app would help connect passengers to drivers. But deciding how an app would operate and who would manage it proved to be challenging. The commission has recommended the city continue to discuss the need for and use of an app going forward.

The measure, which can now be considered for adoption, gained bipartisan support in committee.

“When we have the rare opportunity to reduce the regulatory burden and lower the barriers of entry for someone to go into business, I think that’s an opportunity we should take,” Republican Jeff Coats said of the changes.

Council President Vop Osili, a Democrat, said rolling back burdensome regulations on taxi companies will allow them to compete with rideshare companies, also known as transportation network companies.

“The commission’s work revealed that a healthy taxi industry is vital to the well-being of some of our most vulnerable neighbors and is a critical form of livelihood for many in our community,” he said in a written statement. “I am pleased that all parties were able to work collaboratively to address this important issue.”

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6 thoughts on “Plan to ease local taxi regulations heading to City-County Council for vote

  1. Many years ago I needed a cab for a short ride to take me and my luggage to catch a bus. This was just a few months before Uber and Lyft entered the market. I used my cell phone to call a taxi to come to my house only to be informed it would be 45 minutes for the cab to get there. I called another number only to find it was the same company using another name. The city took 2 years to figure out what remedies are needed to bring local cab companies into the 21st century while Uber and Lyft continue eating market share? Cabs in this city are just slow moving dinosaurs from a bygone era.

  2. I actually try to use a taxi in Indy occasionally, if one is available – but have decided to give them up and stay with the Uber/Lyft services. Local taxis for the most part do not seem to use GPS, constantly asking the passenger for directions, and the cabs are in poor condition, etc. They can’t compete until they emulate some of the standards set by newer ride companies.

  3. The last time I used a taxi, it took an hour to get to us and their mapping system was not correct. The system showed a road going through by our house that has never gone through due to a creek, they called us and said I am here but I do not see your house, we could see them across the creek and had to guide them on how to get around to our house. Lastly, they did not know how to get from our house to a well known place downtown. I am so thankful for Uber and Lyft, absolutely zero issues getting to where we need to go and the unless in surge the prices are super reasonable.

  4. Indiana’s preemptive legislation prevents any local regulation of Transportation Network Companies putting communities in our state at a dangerous disadvantage. Uber & Lyft both heavily subsidize fares with investor monies while pushing almost all expenses down to drivers, for the express purpose of inning competing taxis out of business. Today, Indy’s taxi drivers have the highest security screening for passenger safety while Uber & Lyft have none! Taxi drivers are cell phone connected for rapid dispatch, but because fare subsidies are making TAC’s cheaper in the short term, taxi drivers have diminished by 27% since 2016. Thanks to Vop Osili and the taxi study commission, necessary revisions in cost increasing regulations are being modified after two years of collaborative efforts by many stakeholders who recognize the importance of taxis. The Indianapolis Workers Justice Center is pleased to have participated in that effort because we recognize the difficulties taxi drivers experience AND the reality that Uber/Lyft fare subsidies will last only until taxis are eliminated. Competition is healthy when it is fair but our citizens must not be left at the mercy of limited public transportation options.

    1. All my taxi experiences have been positive. Pleasant drivers, too. Nice to know they are out there. I’ve seen and read too many bad stories about the other drivers and won’t take that chance. If I have to wait or pay more, it’s worth it to me.