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Group Could Steer Discussion On Ride-Sharing In San Antonio

Ryan Loyd
Texas Public Radio

Over the next 60 days, city leaders, representatives from the cab industry and ride-share officials will form a work group to draft possible revisions to San Antonio's vehicle-for-hire ordinance.

Wednesday, the city council's Public Safety Committee backed the recommendation presented by the Assistant Police Director Steve Baum, who suggested revising the vehicle-for-hire ordinance's Chapter 33.

Baum said the focus would be to address regulations that aren't currently in place for the new transportation options. He said public safety, vehicle inspections and insurance would all be a part of the conversation.

For now, the ride-sharing programs Lyft and Uber are still banned from operating in San Antonio.

Lyft representatives have been in San Antonio off and on, holding up to a dozen meetings with Police Chief William McManus and others. Joseph Okpaku, who is Lyft's government relations manager, said prior to Wednesday's committee meeting that Lyft wants to add to the transportation options in San Antonio, not replace taxis.

Current regulations are against the ride-share business model, though.

"Applying the current ordinances that apply to taxicabs in San Antonio is like trying to jam the proverbial square peg into the round hole. It just doesn't apply to our operations," said Okpaku.

But by all standards, Lyft is operating illegally. McManus issued a cease and desist letter and is still holding Lyft to that. So far, he said at least 10 citations have been issued to the ride-sharing drivers.

He told the committee that impounding their vehicles is the next step that police will take.

Okpaku said that the city's Chapter 33 Vehicle for Hire ordinance does not have the Lyft business model in mind. But the question remains why Lyft began operating in the city when the laws haven't yet been changed.

"Changing the regulations is a lengthy process," said Okpaku, "so we come in because we believe there is a legal gap but we also expressed our desire to work with San Antonio officials to identify a regulatory path forward."

That "legal gap" is being noticed by the cab industry. Yellow Cab president John Bouloubasis and dozens of industry workers showed up at the public safety meeting to warn the committee members they are watching.

"They must be regulated," said Bouloubasis to the committee members, which include chairman Cris Medina from Dist. 7, Rebecca Viagran from Dist. 3, Shirley Gonzalez from Dist. 5, and Mike Gallagher from Dist. 10. "They must be regulated," Bouloubasis repeated. Dist. 9 Councilman Joe Krier, who is also on the committee, did not attend the meeting.

Addressing concerns over Lyft's insurance or other safety checks, Okpaku said Lyft drivers are insured 16 times more than what's required by law for cab drivers in San Antonio. Drivers also go through strict federal background checks and in-person interview and ride-alongs, he said.

"Then and only then will you be allowed to drive on the Lyft platform," Okpaku said.

Okpaku didn't give any indication that Lyft drivers will stop driving. The next two months, however, will be devoted to figuring out how Lyft, the city, and the vehicle-for-hire industry can share the road together in peace.

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