By Chloe Huard
LANSING — Six taxi drivers from the Lansing area came up to the podium one by one while their co workers looked on in silence. Some had papers in their hands while others came with nothing but their words.
Each was there to plead their case about an agreement that could change the face of taxis in Lansing for many years. They were there to plead for their jobs to remain the same.
On Sept. 22, the Lansing City Council voted unanimously to pass the Municipal Partnership Agreement, a plan created by the East Lansing City Council. The proposal establishes regulations under a new authority for all taxi services in both Lansing and East Lansing that will last until June 30, 2019.
Council member Judi Brown Clarke introduced the agreement to the council.
“It’s a wonderful example of regional partnership,” Brown Clarke said. “It will ensure that people don’t underbid or create an inconsistent pay fee.”
According to the agreement, the cities of Lansing and East Lansing will use rideshare apps, like Uber, that will increase the efficiency of the cab systems. Uber allows anyone, even people who are not taxi drivers, to become one if they want to. Because of this, drivers do not need a chauffeur’s license and instead go through a background check that is conducted by the people who run the app. If a driver fails a quality check, he is deactivated.
The new authority will promote these rideshare apps, especially among its licensed taxi companies. However, many already existing companies have not been using the Uber app.
For many taxi drivers, the introduction of Uber is good news because it helps them make extra money. Dorothea Martin, a taxi driver through Uber, feels like a mother figure when she picks up female students.
“They are so appreciative of having a safe, efficient, quick way to get from dorm to dorm,” Martin said outside of the City Council room.
Many taxi drivers, however, expressed serious concerns regarding the agreement and Uber. John Clarks came prepared with a folder of information to illustrate his worries.
“It’s a slap in the face to taxi drivers” to give non-licensed drivers the same status as taxi drivers already working for taxicab companies who need chauffeur’s licenses, Clarks said.
The taxi drivers who came to speak against the agreement and Uber were upset at the apparent lack of regulation that the app has concerning the licensing of drivers. Chris Gathof came to discuss options outside of the Uber app like hands-free bluetooth devices that drivers could use.
“Uber needs to follow the exact same rules as any other taxi company,” Gathof said at the meeting.
In addition to the concerns that Uber has raised among taxi drivers, the agreement has a list of requirements that must be fulfilled by all companies licensed by the authority. One of these requirements includes an authority-approved taxi meter in every licensed vehicle. This means that instead of flat rate that many of the cabs use, a fee would be charged based on time spent in the cab.
“I would like to see the fees stay the same,” said Gathof.
Several council members asked for clarification on the regulations that the authority could provide for Uber. Chief of Staff and executive assistant to the mayor Randy Hannan said that there was a relatively robust framework for regulation.
“An ordinance would give full force of law to these regulations,” said Hannan.
Now that the agreement has passed, the cities of Lansing and East Lansing will work together to license and regulate both taxicab companies and drivers. Taxi drivers in Lansing were promised regulation, and with the approval of the agreement, it will be up to the authority created to deliver on their promise.
CORRECTION:Chief of staff and executive assistant to the mayor Randy Hannan’s title was incorrect in an earlier version of this story. It has been corrected.