City of Houston committee takes a hard look at Uber and Lyft

Feb. 25, 2014Houston Business Journal

The city of Houston has some groundbreaking decisions regarding the future of transportation to consider.

On Tuesday, the city of Houston’s Public Safety & Homeland Security and Transportation Technology & Infrastructure committees were formally welcomed into the growing ridesharing/transportation app debate. Ultimately, the committee and the city will need to decide if new transportation services are safe and beneficial to the Houston population.

In a packed room — mainly with taxi and limousine supporters — council members started delving into the issue of whether services like Uber and Lyft should be legal. After three hours of presentations, questioning and public comments, the committee did not vote to make any formal recommendations to city council.

Unless Mayor Annise Parker decides to voluntarily put new vehicle-for-hire ordinances on the city council agenda,Tina Paez, the director of the Administration & Regulatory Affairs department, said it is most likely that discussions regarding new ordinances will continue at the committee meeting next month.

This probably isn’t welcome news for Uber Technologies Inc. and Lyft, whichlaunched some of their services for free, as a promotion, last week.

Unless the companies, which are offering free rides to customers who request ride services from their apps, plan to continue offering free rides for the next month, this could cause some trouble. If the companies ask for payment or donations for their rides, the city said it will charge drivers with violating city ordinances and it will charge them penalties of up to $500.

Already, the city confirmed that there has been one instance where a Lyft driver charged a rider for a ride, and the city charged the driver with three different violations.

As for regulatory changes the city is looking at, the ARA recommended in its Tuesday proposal that the city continue stakeholder discussions about the taxi cab industry, bring changes for Uber’s “UberBlack” limo service to operate legally in Houston and start stakeholder agreements for “peer-to-peer” services such as Lyft and Uber’s “UberX” service.

Check back on for more in-depth coverage about the ARA’s recommendation, the public’s response to the recommendation and Uber and Lyft’s responses to the recommendation.