FARGO – City commissioners alarmed that new taxi laws might block Uber or Lyft from the local market directed staff Monday to write separate laws for the ride-hailing companies.
Neither company has said it’s coming, though Uber told The Forum earlier it is considering Fargo.
“We don’t want to limit Lyft or Uber from coming in,” said Commissioner Melissa Sobolik. “That’s a great service and we have a lot of young professionals and young people who are going to use that service, and maybe older professionals are going to use it.”
Unlike most traditional taxi companies, ride-hailing companies do not own cabs, providing only a cellphone app that links passengers and independent drivers. Current city laws apply to companies that own cabs, but the new laws drafted by Assistant City Attorney Jason Loos would apply to companies that dispatch vehicles serving as taxis, which could include ride-hailing companies.
Loos said regulations are needed because taxis and ride-hailing companies are “pseudo public transportation.”
“The public does have a vested interest in having some control over these, having set fares, making sure they have insurance and public safety,” he said.
However, the laws would also limit practices peculiar to ride-hailing companies, such as raising prices significantly during periods of high demand to encourage more drivers to get back on duty.
Commissioners voted unanimously Monday to approve a first reading of the new taxi laws but apply them only to traditional taxi companies. A second reading in two weeks is needed before the laws go into effect.
In the meantime, legal staff will draft new laws for the ride-hailing companies, or, in city parlance, “transportation network companies.”
“Our whole deal is to have multiple modes of transportation,” said Commissioner Mike Williams, who made the motion to have separate laws.
Commissioner Dave Piepkorn, whose responsibilities on the commission include the Police Department, said his main concern is the safety of passengers, alluding to a requirement for criminal background checks in the new laws. “I’m for small business and new technology, but it is something we should become involved with.”
He said also he likes having more choices for rides because they can reduce drunken driving incidents and he’s heard traditional taxi rides have been hard to come by at night.
Representatives for existing Fargo taxi companies did not speak at Monday’s meeting, though some have weighed in separately with concerns that ride-hailing companies follow the same rules they must follow.