Should Rochester consider easing regulations on taxicab companies?
Yellow Cab, one of Rochester's two main taxi companies, made its case Monday for reduced regulations to the city's taxicab ordinance, asking the city council to "treat us the same" in relation to proposed standards for ride-sharing services.
The council appears poised to adopt a new ordinance for transportation network companies (TNCs) next week following a public hearing. Doing so would clear the way for Uber to begin offering service in Rochester.
Dean Wickstrom, an investor in Yellow Cab, acknowledged the tide was shifting in favor of letting TNCs come to town. In response, he asked the council to consider modifying the existing taxicab ordinance to make sure his business could continue to compete in the local market.
“Yellow Cab is going to have to reinvent itself — totally," said Wickstrom. He added that "pretty dramatic changes" will need to be made to the taxicab ordinance if his company is to remain viable.
Under the ordinance, taxi companies are required to own at least 15 marked vehicles and offer rates regulated by the city. Over the past few years, Yellow Cab has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars upgrading its service with new vehicles, phone systems and computer software, according to Wickstrom.
“All these regulations that burden us ... [TNCs] don’t have," said Wickstrom. "There is no way economically to compete."
Wickstrom presented the council with a proposed set of regulations that, from Yellow Cab's perspective, would even the playing field for taxicabs and TNCs. However, council members pushed back against the idea of combining ordinances for the two types of business models.
“At this stage in the game, to mash them together might create problems," said council president Randy Staver. He noted the TNC ordinance is already "racing through the finish line."
Council members Nick Campion and Michael Wojcik, the two most vocal supporters of ride-sharing services, agreed that it would make the most sense to start with the TNC ordinance and then revisit the taxi regulations.
Wojcik said the council should drop "senseless regulations," like the one requiring companies to own at least 15 vehicles, to enable taxicabs companies to compete with Uber. He pledged that the council would "respond to proposed taxicab changes faster than we've moved on Uber."
While there was a consensus to move forward with the two ordinances independently, council members did not dismiss the idea of later coming back to the table and combining regulations long-term.
In the meantime, Yellow Cab said it's considering all options, including the idea of operating more like a TNC. Wickstrom suggested possibly disbanding the 24/7 call center and converting some full-time drivers into independent contractors.
"We’re trying to figure out a way to survive," he said.
An Uber representative will speak to the council next Monday at its committee of the whole meeting. A public hearing on the issue will continue that evening. In the meantime, we're collecting community feedback on ride-sharing.
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(Cover photo: File / Canva)