Fort Worth

Uber, Lyft win deregulation efforts in Fort Worth

File: Yellow cabs waiting for a fare on the street in Fort Worth on Friday, December 19, 2014. Fort Worth is planning to regulate app-based transportation companies like Uber and Lyft, which are currently unregulated by the city. (Star-Telegram/Joyce Marshall)
File: Yellow cabs waiting for a fare on the street in Fort Worth on Friday, December 19, 2014. Fort Worth is planning to regulate app-based transportation companies like Uber and Lyft, which are currently unregulated by the city. (Star-Telegram/Joyce Marshall) Star-Telegram

Months of work redrafting the city’s vehicle-for-hire ordinance wrapped up Tuesday night when the Fort Worth Council approved new rules that require transportation companies only to register with the city.

The approach chosen by Fort Worth avoids more onerous regulations — including requirements for fingerprinting drivers — that proved problematic in other cities. And it gives Uber, Lyft and others the hands-off regulatory environment they had pleaded for in the city.

The City Council long ago began exploring how to cover the fledgling industry with an ordinance, only to realize months into the process that it didn’t want to regulate the transportation companies, saying smartphone app-based ride share companies had changed the business landscape.

Council members opted for free-enterprise and competition despite a last-minute plea from the traditional taxicab companies that wanted the city to continue to regulate their industry. Taxicabs have always been regulated, they said, and that’s what the public expects.

Jack Bewley, president of Yellow Cab, said the proposed ordinance did not ensure safety for the passengers. He warned the council the city could see an influx of one-man cab companies with owners who have criminal backgrounds and can’t get insurance.

“This ordinance is being set up where an individual … can come down here and say I want to start a taxicab company,” Bewley said.

The council voted 8-0 to approve the new ordinance. Councilman Jungus Jordan was absent.

Mayor Pro Tem Sal Espino said the ordinance meets market innovation.

“Council, in articulating its vision for the regulatory framework, decided the best way is the free-market approach. At this point in time, in the evolution of the ride-sharing services and the transportation services, this is just another option. After much debate, after much discussion, we’re ready to move forward.”

Mayor Betsy Price said, “We just must embrace all forms of transportation to avoid gridlock in our city and allow our citizens to get around. Part of our job is to not cause undue burden on businesses or citizens. Unlike other cities that have gotten so hung up in the hot potato politics of this, Fort Worth is going to do it the right way.”

Doug Wiersig, the city’s transportation and public works director, said the new ordinance is a compromise that “creates the best win for all” the transportation companies.

“The ordinance allows all the stakeholders to operate in the environment they’re comfortable in with a level playing field,” Wiersig said. “The customers can be the ultimate judge as to who’s providing the quality service. We’re providing a level of assurance the drivers are safe and the vehicles are safe.”

Uber issued a statement after the vote applauding the council “for adopting modern ridesharing rules that empower residents, students and visitors to request a ride or earn money at the touch of a button.”

Background checks

As a result, the city will no longer conduct background checks on taxicab and limo drivers, or inspect vehicles, and instead put that task on the companies. Transportation network companies have said they conduct background checks and stand by the safety of their drivers.

About the only thing that does stay under the new ordinance, any motorized vehicle hailed from the street will still be required to have a meter, and permanently post its rates and company name on the outside of the vehicle. The rates and fares for those will remain what’s currently being used, the city said.

“All that goes away,” said Jay Chapa, an assistant city manager, said of the background checks and inspections. “It’s a very big change.”

Fort Worth is one of few cities to go from heavy regulations to one with few regulations.

Under the new ordinance, which takes effect Oct. 1, companies, whether motorized or non-motorized, will pay a $500 operating license fee that’s good for two years. The companies will be required to annually certify that they have done national background checks on their drivers, that their drivers hold valid driver’s licenses and that drivers and vehicles are properly insured.

The ordinance does come with a strict penalty if the company is found not to be in compliance — it will lose their operating license for two years. Passengers can file complaints with the city.

The City Council has been working with the city staff to rewrite its vehicle-for-hire ordinance for 18 months. During that time, staff members held several meetings with company representatives. A couple of months ago, just when they appeared close to a new ordinance, the council suddenly changed course and asked for an ordinance that allowed for the free market to decide the winners.

Earlier this month, that hit a snag when council members were stymied over issuing identification cards and decals for drivers who want to operate at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport. Since then, the airport told Fort Worth officials that it would issue the needed identifications.

Race Street project seeks tax incentive

Dallas-based Criterion Development Partners plans a $49 million, 346-unit apartment development, to be built in two phases between Belknap and Plumwood and Plumwood and Race Street in the Six Points Urban Village. The developer has asked the city for $2.4 million in a Neighborhood Empowerment Zone tax abatement and an enhanced community facilities agreement to help with street and utility repairs in the first phase of the project. The council is scheduled to vote on the request Sept. 13.