Editorial note: Noah M. Horwitz is currently employed by The Clifford Group, a public relations firm in Houston that counts the Greater Houston Transportation Company, Yellow Cab’s parent, among its clients. Horwitz took no place in the deliberation or compilation of this editorial. A majority of the board concurs to the opinion, but the Editorial itself was penned solely by Andrew Scott Romo.
The debate over regulations for taxis in Houston is complicated. The debate over the proposed ordinance before the City Council today is not. The ordinance does not pass the smell test; it allows for equivalent services in the same marketplace to be treated differently. We have long struggled to understand why the City of Houston has drafted an ordinance that would allow such a gross inequity in the law to stand. We’ve tried asking the Mayor, we’ve tried asking the City and we’ve tried asking all the pertinent stakeholders in the community. None of them could give us a clear answer. We are beginning to suspect that one simply does not exist.
This board has long been struggling to pen an editorial on this topic. We disagree sharply among of our ranks with the question of what direction Houston’s taxi industry should move in. Some of us think that the ordinances currently regulating Yellow Cab and other companies should go on relatively unchanged, while some prefer minor changes. Some of us even think that the regulations should be completely eviscerated and replaced with a fully free-market taxi industry, where the consumer and the consumer alone decides who she wishes to ride with and for how much. What we all agree on, however, is that the proposed ordinance is a bad piece of legislation that needs to be voted down.
Uber and Lyft, two new entrants into the taxi industry, wish to not follow the regulations Yellow Cab and others currently follow. These include expensive measures, such as insurance and the guarantee of rides to all, to the more symbolically ethical, such as metered fares that cannot ever be changed or tampered. For one largely supportive of these laws, for example, this proposal lacks any serious positive attributes, as it allows for Uber and Lyft to follow much different, much more lenient, laws regarding insurance, fares, background checks, drug tests, inspections and many more, all while the legal cab companies are forced to follow the letter of the law in every single ordinance previously governing them.
This should be a red flag even for those who are otherwise supportive of calls to reform the taxi industry. Take, for example, the proponent of moderate reform, who may wish to facilitate the creation of discount pricing and promotions for vehicles-for-hire in Houston. While Uber and Lyft, under the dubious category of Transportation Network Companies, may do this, Yellow Cab and others simply may not within the boundaries of the law.
Even advocates of radical deregulation can see the problems with such a proposal. If Uber and Lyft can charge whatever they want, slash some of the most expensive charges for the operation of taxis and only take profitable trips, it would be wildly unfair to compel Yellow Cab to play in the old system. Much has been said about letting the free market take care of consumers in this industry. That simply was not the intention with this bill, as it does not trust the free market to operate. Alternatively, in an example of a most non-free and unfair market, Yellow Cab is restrained by burdensome regulations with Uber and Lyft are not. That is patently absurd and without any justification.
The Houston City Council has already delayed this action once in the naive hope that same grand bargain could be struck or a better bill could be drafted. Instead, the substitute proposal was even worse, replete with even more inequalities between the two same systems. For these reasons, this board recommends that the Council simply kill this proposal. No amendments, no posturing and no compromise-talk. Vote it down.
The Texpatriate Editorial Board is comprised of Noah M. Horwitz and Olivia Arena of Austin, George Bailey of Boston, Luis Fayad of College Station and Andrew Scott Romo of New Orleans. Editorials represent a majority opinion of the board.