Rochester and taxi companies are to blame for the Uber problem
At the Committee of the Whole meeting Monday, A Minneapolis man who co-owns one of Rochester’s taxi companies lamented to the council how fast all of thus Uber stuff was coming at him and how little time his company had to prepare. He was visibly nervous. Another company’s representative asked only that there be a “fair playing field.” Some of the council members expressed sympathy for how these businesses might be upended by competition from Uber and other TNCs (transportation network companies).
But just two years ago, these same companies were directly involved in making the rules they now say are unfair.
The Rochester Taxi Cab Task Force was created in April 2014. The Task Force included the director of the RCVB, the City Clerk and City Attorney, the President of the Rochester Chamber of Commerce, the Executive Director of the Airport, and a Mayo Clinic representative. But the task force also included Andy Chafoulias of Yellow Cab, Shelly Kiefer of Med City Taxi and Terry Brady of Rochester Taxi Inc. The task force met nine times during the summer and analyzed data from 60 cities. On Sept. 29, 2014, that task force issued a report to the Mayor and the City Council.
The task force’s list of recommendations included rates, ordinance changes, driver standards, car standards, inspection and enforcement standards, user trends and “other observations and suggestions.”
The Task Force’s report includes a summary section “User trends and needs” where it addresses a “plan for the modern trends in Taxi service and user expectations including technology such as user applications and business models such as Uber, Lyft etc.”
You can read the full report here.
After noting the existence of Uber the Task Force dropped the topic. There is never another mention in the report of Uber, Lyft, nor other TNCs. This was 2014 when Uber was valued at $18 billion and already dominated the booming market for on-demand transportation in some of those 60 cities studied by the group. The only mention of TNC-like services in its report was a section on “Internet Based Software Application Services.” Here the Task Force reported:
“The Taxi Cab Task Force recommends that the City of Rochester revise the ordinance to allow approved franchises to contract with pre-arranged car services via internet based software applications to arrange flat rate transportation fees. The ordinance should require all drivers to obtain taxi cab drivers permit and all vehicles to be properly insured, licensed and adhere to all franchise standards and service requirements. Enable flat rate fee based services with a suggested minimum fare of $7.00 and $4.00 per mile after the first mile. The Rochester City Council should review the Internet based software flat rate fee structure after 2017.”
Yes, the Task Force — with the full input of the taxi companies — recommended they be allowed to run other TNC services like Uber through their own pre-arranged pricing system, all reinforced by government regulation. In other words, these taxi companies wanted to charge a Rochester resident to arrange an Uber ride for him or her.
Two years later, Rochester wants Uber and the taxi companies have worked to delay an ordinance, saying it is sudden and “unfair.”
Existing taxi services in Rochester deserve sympathy. Nobody wants to see a business struggle or fail, especially since it is the businesses’ day-to-day employees that suffer the most from this kind of instability. But Rochester’s taxi cartel made the bed it currently finds itself in and its employees can blame their company’s owners. These companies helped write the very same rules they now decry as unfair and restrictive. And the City Council should not get a pass; of the council members who sat in the COW meeting Monday, six of the seven were serving when that task force report was issued to them in 2014.
In a competitive world, our city simply cannot carry businesses, no matter how sympathetic, just because those businesses failed to see the future and tried to hide behind a protectionist pact made with local government.
Abe Sauer is a writer and business owner living in Rochester.
(Cover graphic: The Med City Beat)