Undercut by Uber and Lyft, taxis want Fresno to ease rules

A line of cabs waits for fare-paying passengers at the Amtrak train station in downtown Fresno on Thursday.
A line of cabs waits for fare-paying passengers at the Amtrak train station in downtown Fresno on Thursday. tsheehan@fresnobee.com

Taxicab operators in Fresno who say they are losing business to rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft could get a helping hand this summer after a City Council directive Thursday to ease their regulatory burden.

At the urging of Fresno City Councilman Clint Olivier, the council voted 7-0 to have City Manager Bruce Rudd work with the taxi industry “to level the playing field” with the technology-based rideshares.

Olivier said that since he joined the council, he has established a good relationship with the taxi industry and watched with worry as it has evolved to cope with rideshare competitors. “They originally came to me for regulatory relief,” he said. “They said the regulations are onerous and make it difficult for them to do business, and for the most part, I agree.”

The city has done a few things over the years to help taxicab companies, which are regulated – including the rates they charge – at the city level. Olivier pointed to one old rule that required companies to switch out cars older than seven years. “We were able to extend that to 10 years, and able to give them some relief. That was helpful.”

Uber, Lyft and other rideshares, on the other hand, are regulated by the state, but some cities have taken steps to add additional layers of rules for them, Olivier said. “I told our taxi drivers that would be a non-starter,” he said, expressing opposition to city regulation of rideshares. “Our city is friendly to technology.”

Olivier said he would like to see Fresno adopt a position similar to Long Beach, which he characterized as virtually deregulating rates. “They set a ceiling that the taxi cannot charge more than that, but the driver has the latitude to charge based on peak times or mileage,” he said.

Rudd said he expects to offer recommendations to the City Council in July for modifications to Fresno’s taxi regulations.

“The reality is, there is a change,” Rudd said. “Uber and Lyft are very quickly taking over the marketplace, which is what the free market does.”

Julio Bejar, an independent cab owner-operator of Taxi Azteca in Fresno, said he’s glad the city is listening to the industry’s pleas.

Companies like Uber and Lyft, Bejar said, “are doing the exact same thing we’re doing, but they don’t have to pay $300 a month just for liability insurance. They don’t have to worry about taking their car for a brake inspection, which is another $100. They don’t have to smog their car every year like we do.”

Bejar estimated that the number of taxicabs operating in Fresno has shrunk substantially in recent years, from between 180 and 200 cabs to perhaps 80 now, mostly because of rideshares that often undercut cabbies’ regulated rates.

Bejar said his fellow cab operators want to see what Rudd comes up with before celebrating. “I would like to see anyone from the City Council be a cab driver for a day and face the fees we pay every year,” he said. “That would give a better understanding, what rules could be taken off and what could stay.”

Olivier said that even with city action, cabbies’ survival is uncertain. “Even if we completely deregulate, it remains to see if they can compete,” he said. “It’s not an easy job. It’s a tough job. These are the last vestige of an old-fashioned way to get around.”

In other action Thursday:

Flag recognition

The City Council presented certificates of appreciation to Fresno’s American Legion Post 509, the Legion Riders motorcycle group, members of the National Guard’s 1072nd Transportation Company and financial contributors for organizing a display of 350 American flags along Blackstone Avenue for the Memorial Day weekend.

Post 509 Historian Ken Hendrix thanked the National Guard members for the labor to put up and store the flags. “When you have 350 flags, it’s a big pile of stuff,” Hendrix said. He also thanked the city’s streets department for putting up the brackets on streetlight poles to hold the flags.

Pride parade

The council also recognized the 26th annual Fresno Rainbow Pride parade and festival, coming up on Saturday in the Tower District. The event celebrates the LGBT community with a parade that begins at 10 a.m. and runs on Olive Avenue from Palm Avenue to Wishon Avenue, followed by the Tower District festival from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Organizer Jeffrey Robinson said the Fresno parade is the only one of its kind in Central California; while it recognizes the Valley’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, he added that the celebration is open to everyone.