My Turn: Taxi drivers only asking for level playing field

The Nov. 24 West Hawaii Today front page article, “Turf war revs up,” outlined some of the issues allowing Lyft and Uber to unfairly compete with the taxi business.

Tuesday’s Hilo Tribune-Herald article regarding proposed state regulation of transportation companies failed to embrace taxi companies’ points of view. If hearings have been held and no taxi companies responded, it’s because they were not given notice nor was their input invited.

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Both articles failed to dig deeper into the financial and liability ramifications by not holding ride share companies to the same screening and licensing standards as a taxi. If the business functions as a commercial transportation commodity, they should be on the same level playing field and regulated as such. Treating ride share companies with different regulations than taxis, for providing the same services, could invite class action discrimination and huge lawsuits.

Here’s why: The only difference is that taxis can operate on demand and fares are regulated. Summoning a ride on an app is also on demand. Via their business model, Uber and Lyft are being scammed of millions of dollars by drivers when repeat customers ask for a driver’s phone number, bypassing the apps when they find a driver they prefer. Uber and Lyft have no means of detecting this practice, nor does the driver’s personal auto insurance cover these “illegal, on demand” bookings. When that driver has an accident, the injured sues, insurance won’t pay, then it will be the deep pockets of the state, meaning we taxpayers for failing to properly regulate the industry.

Taxi drivers are required to procure commercial liability insurance policies which cost $100 a month or more. If the state continues to drag its feet in regulating these businesses, insurance companies and ambulance-chasing attorneys will accelerate the matter.

Taxi drivers pay $250 monthly to the state to go into a rotation at the airport to pick up passengers. Uber and Lyft drivers, before they were allowed at the airport, were well known to cheat. When a call came in for a long run, drivers would instruct their rides to take a taxi out of the airport to a nearby pickup place just outside the airport, and transfer the luggage and passengers. Does that sound fair to the taxi driver who waited for hours to pick up a $15 load to the Pines? How many returns from these destinations were booked under the table?

Taxi vehicles are subject to regular vehicle safety inspections and cleanliness standards. Are Uber and Lyft?

Taxi drivers pay $500 a year for additional liability insurance to pick up at the airport. Do Uber and Lyft?

Approximately 70 taxis now work out of the Kona airport, paying $250 a month, watching Uber and Lyft taking their livelihoods. Taxi drivers also pay fees to get their licenses, meters regulated, annual physicals, background checks, etc.

Taxi drivers are required to present their excise tax license, and submit a tax clearance every year when they renew (meaning they are filing and paying their excise taxes, which comes out of the meter income). Are Uber and Lyft operators required to have excise tax licenses and pay their taxes?

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We taxi drivers are not asking for preferential treatment, only a level playing field, and the state needs to consider all aspects before bowing to corporate Goliaths. Once Uber and Lyft become a transportation monopoly by driving taxis out of business, they might raise their fares and the state will be left holding the bag of unintended consequences.

Joe Naidu drives for Fiji Transportation in Kailua-Kona.