Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Gold Dome bill to regulate Uber and Lyft has been introduced and it's a doozy

Posted By on Wed, Feb 5, 2014 at 3:31 PM

Taxi and limo industries argue Silicon Valley companies such as Uber and Lyft raise public safety concerns
  • Joeff Davis/CL File
  • Taxi and limo industries argue Silicon Valley companies such as Uber and Lyft raise public safety concerns
Last week, we reported on Atlanta taxi and limo industries pushing the city and state to start regulating Uber and Lyft. They argued the Silicon Valley firms, which are gobbling up their business, presented a "public safety" issue. The owners wanted a "level playing field."

An ambitious bill introduced on Monday by state Rep. Alan Powell, R-Hartwell, - and which we've embedded after the jump - might be the answer to their prayers.

Under the bill, "transportation referral service providers" such as Uber and Lyft - and coming this spring, Hailo - must obtain a license and register with the state or face a civil penalty of up to $50,000. To register, they'll have to demonstrate to the Department of Public Safety that the drivers they link with passengers are licensed, vetted, and drive inspected vehicles, among other safeguards. The drivers must also comply with all local regulations regarding taxis and limos, which one could argue includes permit fees. And whatever fares the drivers charge must comply with local regulations or restrictions - so adios cheaper fares, free rides, and promotions (and, so it seems, the controversial surge pricing that gave so many Uber customers a price shock on New Year's Eve). In addition, the "transportation referral service providers" must also ensure that drivers have commercial liability insurance.

In addition, the proposed legislation also stipulates that "the use of Internet or cellular telephone software to calculate rates" - which is what Uber's app does - "shall not be permitted unless such software companies complies with and conforms to the weights and measures standards of the local government that licenses such taxi service." Failure to do so could earn the companies a fine of up to $5,000 for each violation.

Finally, a section proposes exempting taxis, limos, and other similar companies from sales and use tax and replacing that cash with revenue from new decal sales. Before the end of 2014, the decal would cost $5 a piece and will be subject to an annual renewal. After Jan. 1, 2016, however, the fee rises to $1,000. That cash will be split 57-43 between the state and the municipality or county where the driver operates.

Powell, who chairs the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee, is quick to point out that his legislation is a "starting point" rather than the final draft. He emphasizes that he's not trying to "put anyone out of business." In an interview last night, Powell repeated what he said when we spoke several times for my recent cover story - he's looking out for public safety. Powell has tasked three members of the committee - state Reps. Dustin Hightower, R-Carrollton, Darlene Taylor, R-Thomasville, and Alex Atwood, R-Brunswick - with vetting the bill. Lyft and Uber, which have hired high-powered lobbyists under the Gold Dome including former Secretary of State Lewis Massey, will surely be reviewing the legislation as well.

"We have had productive meetings with the bill sponsors to discuss Lyft's peer-to-peer business model and commitment to safety," Lyft spokeswoman Paige Thelan said in an emailed statement. "We welcome this as an opportunity to start a thoughtful discussion around Lyft in Atlanta and the state of Georgia and look forward to continuing the conversation."

Uber took a more aggressive tone. Said spokeswoman Nairi Hourdajian in an emailed statement this morning:

"Less than a week after news came to light that taxi companies have been working with the city of Atlanta - on city property - to find ways to shut Uber down, the introduction of this bill makes clear that those fighting to limit consumer choice and driver opportunity in Atlanta are seeking every possible way to do so.

Uber is revolutionizing the way tens of thousands of Atlantans seamlessly connect with their city and the way thousands of drivers make a living. We are going to stand up on behalf of those riders and drivers - and the future of Atlanta. This bill does not."

We'll see what stays and what doesn't - and if the taxi and limo industries have enough support under the Gold Dome to get any proposal to pass. Let us know if anything jumps out at you.

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