T & E Committee Recommends Taxicab Reforms

File Photo

File Photo

The Montgomery County Council’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment (T and E) Committee, which is chaired by Councilmember Roger Berliner, today recommended approval of landmark legislation to fundamentally re-shape the taxicab industry in Montgomery County.

Bill 53-14 would improve driver working conditions, update rules so that taxicabs can compete in a 21st Century transportation environment and enhance customer service.

“The taxicab industry is facing unprecedented challenges as a function of the new entrants, Uber and Lyft, that have brought a higher quality service,” said Councilmember Berliner. “That is why it is so important to reform our outdated approach to the industry. Our goal should be to create an environment in which our community will be well-served by the taxi industry for years to come.”

The committee’s recommendation will go to the full Council for approval.

Roger Berliner

Councilmember Roger Berliner

Central to Berliner’s efforts has been a focus on improving the lives of the County’s taxi drivers, which heretofore have not been provided any protection.

“Our committee has taken unprecedented steps to protect the interests of the people behind the wheel,” said Councilmember Berliner. “The testimony before our committee revealed that drivers are among the most disempowered workers in our community, working extremely long hours, paying high lease rates and many of them earning barely a living wage.”

The bill is set to make significant changes to that dynamic. Councilmember Berliner has supported reforms that will set lease caps for drivers; provide for single-year agreements; support the formation of a driver cooperative; and create an arbitration process for disputes between drivers and fleets. Currently, most drivers in the County lease a vehicle from a company. The legislation will make it easier for drivers to buy a license and 50 non-transferable licenses will be issued directly to drivers this coming year.

The legislation also reduces regulations on fleets, allowing them to save costs and provide better service. The bill will allow them to use modern, software-based meters, offer black car services, get new drivers on the road more quickly and will reduce bureaucratic reporting requirements.

“Instead of companies being able to hold drivers captive, our legislation makes it so that the companies have to compete among themselves, and with Uber and Lyft, for drivers,” said Councilmember Berliner. “And these new reforms to the regulations should allow the companies to offer new innovative products to attract both drivers and customers.”

In the taxicab industry, consumers have been calling for change for years, and many have voted with their feet by switching to services like Uber and Lyft. The bill helps to change that equation, too. Most notably, the bill calls for the adoption of a centralized digital dispatch app, like the system used by Uber and Lyft, that will allow a resident or visitor in Montgomery County to hail the nearest taxicab, regardless of the company, making it easier and faster to get a cab in the county. The lead sponsor on this measure was Councilmember Hans Riemer.

“Our Committee has worked hard to deliver a bill that provides benefits to all the major stakeholders in the taxicab arena,” said Councilmember Berliner. “The taxicab industry is changing dramatically, and it is our duty as a Council to make sure that the industry is equitable and up-to-date. With this legislation now and in the future, I will work to make sure our taxi industry is something that every Montgomery County resident can be proud of.”

Councilmember Berliner has also sponsored legislation, Bill 33-15, to create a surcharge on trips by Uber, Lyft and other Transportation Networking Companies (TNCs) in Montgomery County to support service for the disabled. That bill, which is co-sponsored by Councilmembers Nancy Floreen and Craig Rice, and is set to be introduced during the Council session on Tuesday, June 23.

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