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Council pushes ahead on taxicab contracts, co-op

Friday, May 22, 2015 by Tyler Whitson

City Council concluded another chapter in the current taxicab franchise renewal saga Thursday, voting to tentatively renew contracts with the city’s three service providers and amend related regulations. It also directed city staff to explore creating a fourth, cooperative franchise.

While the full Council must make the final decision on the franchise renewals and regulations, much of the policy discussion and development has taken place in its Mobility Committee over the past few months. Council Member Ann Kitchen, who chairs the committee, said it has been “really looking at an even playing field for both cab drivers and for taxicab companies.”

Council adopted the ordinances relating to these items on second reading, though three readings are required for full adoption. The ordinances will make their way to the committee agenda for further vetting on June 3, then back to Council for final consideration on June 4.

The committee will also likely consider the feasibility of creating a co-op franchise on Aug. 5, the day after Council directed staff in the associated resolution to have prepared a report on the timeline, scope and number of permits for the proposed franchise.

That process will take place independently of Council renewing its current franchise agreements, which expire in August.

Council set the term of the franchise renewals at one year, though Kitchen referred to this time frame as a “placeholder” and said that she expects the term that Council finally agrees upon to be longer.

Representatives from the three existing franchises, Yellow Cab Austin, Lone Star Cab and Austin Cab Company, made such a request during a public comment period prior to the vote.

Joan Khabele, representing Austin Cab Company, said that “everything would have to come to a stop” at her company if the final contracts were set for one year.

The taxicab regulation ordinance, in its current draft, removes limitations on the age of a vehicle as long as it meets existing inspection requirements, changes the method by which the city disperses chauffeur’s permits to franchises to reflect adherence to approved performance measures and repeals the requirement that permit holders have a franchise sponsor.

As in past meetings, taxi drivers and representatives of a union called the Taxi Drivers Association of Austin showed up in strong numbers at City Hall.

Association President Dave Passmore expressed strong support for the regulation changes and the creation of a co-op franchise prior to the vote and asked Council to enact further regulations on taxicab companies.

These regulations include a cap on the amount companies can charge drivers to lease vehicles and pay for other goods and services. He also asked for creation of a due process system for disciplinary action by companies against drivers.

“The current system is broken,” Passmore said. “Do not renew the franchise agreements without making changes to protect drivers.”

Yellow Cab President Ed Kargbo defended the status quo. “There’s no such thing as a perfect system,” he said, “but the current franchise structure is the most balanced and accountable system to the rule of law, to the city of Austin, to passengers, drivers and to operating franchises.”

Kitchen said the committee would consider additional issues related to the franchise agreements in its next meeting, including accessibility-related provisions and more.

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