Taxi cabs not entitled to special government treatment

Taxi cabs not entitled to special government treatment

Michael Gold, Editor in Chief

St Augustine is America’s oldest city — but, that does not mean that we should remain trapped by America’s oldest ways of doing things.

Once again the paid city staff, with limited business acumen and limited business-world legal expertise, are being courted by special interests; this time the taxi cab operators, specifically Sax Taxi, Inc. President and CEO James Howard and his attorney.

The nation is finding new ways to address everyday commerce; not because government is doing the research and development, but rather the entrepreneur and private sector are exercising their age-old roles in our capitalist economy, taking risks and earning rewards.

Government has no role in that process; however, the City of St Augustine has a storied past on that count and there is movement that would indicate they are one step away from intruding in that space, again.

Once upon a time, Bass, and later Yellow Cab, dispatched their cars from a hole-in-the-wall garage at the corner of Granada and Cedar Street where a city parking lot now stands. The parking lot is an improvement.

Today’s chauffeured options include everything from peda-cabs and rickshaws to chartered limousines, several different cab companies, and, of course, ride share operators like Uber.

The ride shares are in the news because they are gaining popularity quickly with the smartphone generation and millennials who expect maximum perks and services, maximum conveniences, and competitive prices. At the center of a technology core that is expanding daily, existing ordinances and state laws are stale and never contemplated how the technology would advance.

Feeling the pinch of consumer demand, cabbies are losing business to ride shares and many are ill-equipped to catch up. Unfortunately, they are using false claims and attempting to manipulate politicians to create laws unfavorable to modern technology, rather than accepting and embracing the opportunities that the technology presents.

Historic City News research into Uber verified a number of their claims and we can report that before a driver is accepted or given access to the Uber partner application, a comprehensive screening is performed. A third-party background check, including a credit bureau report, is obtained. A 3-year driving history is ordered and each motor vehicle you propose to drive must be approved by Uber. A copy of your motor vehicle insurance card and vehicle registration must be provided. Drivers must clear a national sex offender registry as well as confirm citizenship and employment eligibility through the e-verify program.

Uber provides other protections for drivers and passengers that only technology can provide. Passengers have to register with Uber; so the company and driver know who is getting in their vehicle. An image of the driver is sent to the passenger’s smartphone and the driver receives an image of the passenger when the trip is confirmed.

Drivers never have to handle cash, virtually eliminating the risk of robbery. Use of GPS technology allows Uber to know where their partners are from the time they pick up the passenger until the time the passenger leaves the vehicle. Global positioning also aids in matching riders with partners closest to their location.

If we are trying to appeal to a more affluent, better educated and more engaged heritage tourist, we need to offer a historically accurate experience without making our guests read by the light of a kerosene lantern or sleep on a bed stuffed with hay. They will expect cell phone service, connectivity for their tablets, and widely available public Internet.

The visitor to our city will expect choices. They will expect comfort and culturally lively entertainment. We have seen too often what happens when city government tries to take a role in business. Look at the profit and loss on the Visitor Center gift shop if you want proof.

The state may very well take a position on rideshare operations that will preempt county and municipal regulation, like was done with fishing licenses and concealed weapons permits, rendering the exercise moot.

The fact that the lawyer for a newcomer in the effected business is the one bringing forward a proposed new ordinance favorable to old fashioned taxi cabs should be telling. It tells me a lot, but apparently not so for some members of the sitting city commission.

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