The Houston Chronicle reports that local taxi companies (i.e., the Greater Houston Transportation Company) have sued Uber and Lyft in Federal Court, alleging that the ridesharing apps (which moonlight as de facto taxi companies) are violating City ordinance by illegally accepting payments. As many will recall, Lyft and Uber recently entered the market in Houston, with the understanding that they could not accept any payment until everything is straightened out, legally speaking, down out City Hall. Lyft tried, at first, to say they did not actually charge for their services but were really “donation based,” but after Mayor Annise Parker made an admittedly epic comparison to streetwalkers, Lyft backed off from that sentiment.
The problem with this delicate arrangement is that Uber and Lyft have not lived up to their end of the bargain. Just last Saturday, Dug Begley at the Houston Chronicle delineated the plethora of citations these companies have been receiving in recent days for allegedly operating illegally. 26 citations just in recent days, as of Saturday. Accordingly, the argument shifts to the Taxi Co. who, for better or for worse, must abide by the regulations that are currently on the books. Whether or not you believe that there should be reform of the City’s taxi ordinances, everyone should be united against the overt lawbreaking on the part of Lyft and Uber.
The argument used by the Taxi Co.’s attorney was that these ridesharing apps/companies were operating a business without abiding by the regulations and only be penalized by meager fines, which is wrong. “If I could run a bar and all I had to do was pay a fine for $500 for not paying taxes, I might still run the bar and pay the fines,” the attorney (Martyn Hill) said.
As I have said at length in the past, most of Uber/Lyft’s business practices make me uneasy, significantly more uneasy than the actual changes they are ostensibly pushing therefor. If they could just act like adults and campaign in a reasonable manner for things such as dropping mandatory wait times, then I would be far more amenable to the campaign, as I suspect would many others (including the Taxi company).
Alas, this has not happened. The companies have shoved their ways into the market, skirting on blatant violations of the law. They have tried to bully their way into changing the books at City Hall through a bizarre letterwriting campaign that drew upon the naivete of many of their fans (an incident that even drew the ire of the Houston Chronicle Editorial Board).
It is also worth saying that this tactics of suing Uber/Lyft is not a new one, by any means. Just last month, the same thing happened in Seattle. The month before that, Chicago. Last year, Boston. Only time well tell how this all plays out in Houston.