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Houston Judge To Hear Taxi Drivers Case Against Ride-Sharing Companies

Ryan Loyd
TPR News

A U.S. District Judge in Houston has been assigned the case of cab drivers against two so-called ride sharing programs. The case stems from a lawsuit filed on behalf taxi drivers in San Antonio and Houston earlier in the week.

The Houston attorney representing the taxi drivers, Martyn Hill, who practices corporate law, said Thursday he would like to hear the companies, Lyft and Uber, tell the court what he said their services really are: vehicles for hire.

"I think it's going to be difficult for them to continue to pursue the argument that they're ride share," Hill said by phone.

Hill is fighting on behalf of thousands of San Antonio and Houston cab and limo drivers who think Lyft and Uber should have to play by the rules and abide by vehicle-for-hire ordinances put in place by the cities of San Antonio and Houston. Now that U.S. District Court Judge Vanessa Gilmore from Houston has been assigned the case, Hill looks forward to quick action.

He said there are any number of circumstances that could happen including an injunction order to stop the companies from operating while each side presents items for discovery. He hopes that a hearing would be set soon after an injunction.

While Hill doesn't believe the companies are taking away business from the taxi industry in large quantities right now, he said they could be changing attitudes toward following the law.

"It's difficult when somebody says, 'Well, if they don't have insurance, do I have to have insurance? Do I have to do all the things that, in Houston, chapter 46, or in San Antonio, chapter 33, require?'" he said. "My argument is: yes you do. But eventually drivers would be more concerned with why should they follow the law."

Companies like Lyft operate on an app-based platform, where no cash is exchanged in the vehicle. Some Lyft drivers have told TPR they think the program is truly ride-sharing because the fare is donation-based and multiple people can be on the same ride together.

A representative from Lyft responded to a request from TPR on the company's view of the pending lawsuit. Paige Thelen from Lyft's communications communications office said the lawsuit is without merit and the company looks forward to resolving it quickly and effectively.

"Lyft fills an economic and transportation need for both drivers and passengers in San Antonio and Houston, and we will continue to provide safe, reliable rides that benefit the local community and further public safety," she said in a statement by e-mail.

Ryan Loyd was Texas Public Radio's city beat and political reporter. He left the organization in December, 2014.