Belated council update

The biggest news out of City Hall yesterday was that the contentious fire union contract was unanimously approved by the Council in order to prevent brownouts from occurring. As I noted about a week and a half ago, the Mayor and the Firefighter’s Union reached a comprehensive agreement to avert looming brownouts caused by the HFD going over budget for the fiscal year as a result of massive overtime pay paid through a generous union contract. As Off the Kuff notes, the Firefighter’s Union has already overwhelmingly ratified this agreement, meaning it is now slated to go into effect.

Mike Morris at the Houston Chronicle has the full story on this issue, including the fact that the Firefighter’s Union approved the compromise by a nearly 2-to-1 margin. The article also has a comprehensive summation of the other major actions taken by the City Council throughout the course of the day. First and foremost, a major proposal to combat blighted buildings was tagged for another two weeks. Second, the long-awaited joint-processing-center finally received appropriations from City Hall. Third, a new development has occurred in the Uber/Lyft issue, specifically pertaining to safety records.

Click here to read about all these developments!

Another view of Uber

Uber and Lyft have been creating quite the uproar recently in Houston politics, openly challenging the current regulations for taxis and private cars. It seems that taxi operators are concerned that Uber will undercut their fares and drive them out of business. However, there is also concern with Uber’s “price gouging” by charging more at peak business times. I see no reason for these fears, but I do think it is important that we review how these companies operate to ensure the safety of those who use them.

First of all, I’ve had very good experiences with Uber in other cities. You simply enter your destination in the Uber app; and it tells you exactly how much the fare will be, when your driver will arrive and charges the fare to your credit card upon arrival at your destination. When you reach your destination you say thank you and step out of the car. In my opinion, this system is infinitely better than that of traditional cabs.

Click here to read the full viewpoint!

What have I missed at City Hall?

I wrote at length about the brouhaha over Firefighter pensions yesterday, and it was certainly an important issue, but was definitely not the only thing that went on at City Hall. As many will probably already know, a local committee held a contentious hearing on the entrance of ridesharing software/transportation companies Lyft and Uber into the marketplace. Additionally, a protest was held immediately outside the building in opposition to the planned “One bin for All” recycling program. Finally, late last night, the Houston Chronicle put out a damning report on the state of the City’s finances, specifically regarding the long-term pension obligations the city faces.

First things first, the Uber issue. Dug Begley, one of the more talented writers at the Houston Chronicle, has the full story on this hearing, including many of the reactions and initial implications. At its core, the issue revolves around whether or not to change the many regulations facing the transportation industry. Countless taxi drivers flooded the public session of the pertinent committee hearing to voice their opposition. I wrote a fairly lengthy piece a few weeks ago on this subject, basically opposed to changing the rules for Uber. My position has only calcified in recent days as Uber has openly thumbed its nose at the City and ignored the rules set in place. Begley’s piece even notes that Uber has already been busted charging fees to customers, something they unequivocally promised not to do until the regulatory controversy was worked out.

Click here to read what else I have missed!

Uber enters the market too

The Houston Chronicle reports that Uber, the ridesharing and decentralized taxi service/app, has immediately commenced service within Houston. The news comes shortly after one of their key competitors, Lyft, announced they too would begin service in Houston. Lyft, which prides itself on not technically charging fees but rather making its income through ostensible donations, was initially deterred from beginning service in Houston until after disputes over the City’s complicated and immense taxi regulating ordinances were cleared up. However, these concerned were placated for the time being after Lyft announced they would not accept fees/donations at first. Accordingly, it would operate for free. Following this lead, Uber announced its immediate entrance into the market late on Thursday, though also pledged to be free for the time being.

Negotiations are currently underway in City Council committees to reform certain transportation regulations, but at current, if either of these services begin accepting money (either in the form of fees or donations), it would be breaking the law. Mayor Parker has historically been quite skeptical of these platforms, and I sincerely believe she would clamp down somewhat strictly on overt violations of the law by these companies.

Click here to read the full article!

Lyft comes to town

Astute readers of this blog will recall that I am not really a big fan of Uber. I’ve never really jumped head over heels for their business model, but I am especially not sympathetic to how flagrantly they violate the rules set in place by municipalities and just presumptuously operate as they see fit. Of course, as I have been reminded many times, all ride-sharing organizations should not be painted by the same broad brush, and that is readily apparent in the distinction between Uber and Lyft.

The Houston Chronicle reports that Lyft will be commencing operation tomorrow in Houston. The key distinction between Uber and Lyft is that, while the former operates much in the same way as a taxi, Lyft tries to operate far more as a ride-sharing organization that features regular people in regular cars. I should note that does not mean I do not similarly have some concerns about the organization, but it is important to note the differences.

However, there are similarities, particularly with the Taxi industry. While Lyft says it is all about donations, at the end of the day it revolves around a business model of rides for money. According to City ordinance, that is called  Taxi service. Accordingly, unless they abide by the countless (albeit, sometimes byzantine) regulations facing the taxi industry, they are breaking the law.

Click here to see what Lyft will do!