Uber San Antonio says it’s leaving if new regs remain

An Über supporter downtown for December's City Council vote.

After the San Antonio City Council passed what many consider one of the worst regulatory frameworks in the country for TNCs last year, Uber announced this past week it would be suspending operations in the city unless favorable changes are made to the regulations. The regulations are scheduled to go into effect starting March 1, with a review scheduled 6 months later.

In a letter to Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran, chair of the council’s Public Safety Committee, Chris Nakutis, general manager of Uber Texas, said the company made the decision after reviewing the regulations during the past month. In the letter, he pointed out that Uber has been able to work with more than 20 U.S. cities and states to establish a legal framework for operation.

Nakutis encouraged Viagran and the council to replace the current ordinance with smart regulations, “like those adopted by Austin, that protect public safety while at the same time fostering technological innovations that enhance transportation options and economic development for the city.”

Some of the local restrictions Uber and other TNCs have said are a challenge involve higher insurance regulations than taxis in the city and more restrictive driver registration requirements than other cities.

Dallas is an example of a city Uber was able to strike a deal with that was also somewhat favorable to taxi companies. An article in the Dallas Morning News noted the difference in commercial insurance rates.

“The ordinance allows for two tiers of commercial insurance on cars for hire: one for when operators are merely available to accept riders, and a higher coverage for when they’re actually carrying passengers or en route to pick them up,” wrote Tom Benning of the Dallas Morning News.

R Street, a free-market advocacy group, recently ranked the 50 largest cities in the nation based on a competitive business environment for TNCs, taxis, and limo services. In all three categories San Antonio ranked at the bottom of the list with an overall score of D-. SA received an F for TNCs.

In an article (paywall) by Josh Baugh in the San Antonio Express-News, Councilman Alan Warrick has said he plans to draft a Council Consideration Request (CCR) to review the regulations, with a possible new vote.

While proponents of the existing regulations point to public safety as a primary reason for what many see as excessive driver restrictions, both industries have their share of incidents in which drivers assaulted passengers, even with regulations in place.

An Uber driver was arrested for assaulting a passenger in Illinois after encouraging the passenger to sit in the front seat of the vehicle. And a cab driver in Columbus, OH, faces charges of assaulting a passenger after picking her up in December of last year. In an attempt to help improve rider safety, Uber recently added a safety checklist to its app to help passengers make sure the drivers who arrive are the drivers they selected.

San Antonio-based USAA has started working with its members to provide the necessary coverage required by cities when members are driving for TNCs. In a pilot program in Colorado Springs, USAA allows members to enroll in hybrid coverage that meets the regulatory requirements when the app is on.

“We recognize that members are participating in this type of activity, and we need to be where our members are,” USAA’s Jesse Mata told News Radio 1200 WOAI’s Michael Board.

For now, San Antonio is still set to implement the TNC regulations in March, and Uber–and possibly Lyft–are prepared to pull out of the city. If Uber does leave San Antonio, it will be a blow to transportation options in a city where taxis can sometimes take as long as an hour to arrive in the downtown area.

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