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.”