Can’t regulate Uber, so Indy commission looks to deregulate taxis

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Red tape is to partly to blame for the rapid decline of Indianapolis’ taxi industry.

Or so say the taxi drivers.

State law doesn’t allow Indiana cities to regulate ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft.

A newly-formed city-county council taxi reform commission is looking into the regulations local taxi drivers currently face and if they can diminish the disparity.

“The taxicab companies have been treated unfairly because the Uber is not being regulated,” said Osman Djama, the airport taxi advisory committee chairman. “The taxis are being regulated.”

Right now, the city regulates everything from where taxi companies dispatch calls to where drivers wait for customers and even the colors of these cars.

They license drivers, testing them on names of major streets and the locations of hospitals and sports venues.

Complying with the rules and paying a list of fees costs drivers hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year. It’s money Uber,  Lyft and their drivers largely don’t pay.

The commission is looking at how much of that, in the age of ride-sharing, is still necessary.

Djama believes regulations put them so far behind, burying their companies with additional costs as they lost revenue. That doesn’t leave much money to keep up with apps in terms of convenience, even without a long list of regulations.

“They will struggle, but if the city developed apps, it would be the same as Uber and Lyft,” said Djama, referring to the idea of the city spearheading development of an app allowing users to request a cab.

But even then, taxis wouldn’t be the same as Uber and Lyft.

As the commission discussed, their business model is different.

The requirement that taxis look like taxis, for example, helps people who try to get in a cab that just happens to be waiting where they are.

Taxis also serve people who don’t have smartphones or credit cards, a requirement to use Uber or Lyft.

And there are some  people who just prefer cabs.

Those people, commission members say, do still need protection.

They’re debating the line between protection and regulating the minutiae, like where taxis dispatch calls or how they keep records, which right now adds thousands of dollars in operating costs every year.

“The business is shrinking,” said Djama. “The companies cannot keep up with those [calls] dispatched as well as the expenses that they carry.”

Whether the changes will help them win back a generation that doesn’t think about taxis anymore, is yet to be seen.