Dallas City Hall has come a long way over the past 10 months. Last year, it was trying to chase Uber out of town with vice stings and surreptitious regulations. Now, it's put forth some generally sensible recommendations to streamline the governing of the "transportation for hire" industry and put all its players -- Yellow Cab, Uber, limos, shuttle companies and "ride share" services -- on equal regulatory footing.
The proposed changes are still subject to three months or so of tweaking by the City Council, and there will naturally be some differences of opinion, but certainly everyone can agree that the most blatantly arbitrary and anti-competitive elements of current law -- the ones setting an age limit and minimum purchase price on vehicles or giving natural-gas cabs front-of-the-line privileges at Love Field -- should be scrapped.
But this is Dallas, where Yellow Cab's tentacles still run deep. Multiple council members expressed reluctance during a hearing on Tuesday to cede control of such matters to the free market.
Tennell Atkins, for one, had trouble accepting the notion that, under the new rules, any vehicle that met the city-mandated inspection and had the proper insurance would be allowed to operate.
"You could have a car with 500,000, one million miles, and it's still considered a good car?" he asked assistant city attorney John Rogers.
Yes. And a Toyota Camry, which costs considerably less than the $45,000 minimum purchase price mandated by the city, could parade around as a limo.
"A Toyota Camry is a limo?" Atkins interjected.
No, but the new rules would eliminate the distinctions between taxis and limos, which Uber in particular has blurred.
Atkins, who was on the council when the age limits were passed, said the issue at the time was simple: "When people come in the city of Dallas, people want to be in a nice car." What changed?
Vonciel Hill followed up by going through the proposed changes one by one and expressing displeasure with those that might upset the status quo.
"I have no interest in deleting the head-of-line provision [for natural gas cabs]," she said. That rule provided a huge advantage for the companies (i.e. Yellow Cab and its corporate cousins) that could afford natural gas cabs and could thus enjoy a near-monopoly on Love Field traffic. "I think head-of-line prov encourages vehicles to help with our air quality. That's what that's about and I want to encourage that.
"I do not have an interest in eliminating age requirements or dollar-value requirements," she continued. "I do not want old cars to pick up people at DFW airport."
She's ambivalent about the proposal to stop regulating the color of cars.
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"I think that we as a council would want to talk about that. Bringing international visitors in, we may not want purple cars. On slide -- did I hear someone laughing over there?" She paused looked around, then offered that her own personal color of choice is black. "I think black is a good-looking color, whether you put it on cars or people. It's just a wonderful color."
All of which seemed designed to underscore Philip Kingston's oft-repeated point that the city has had a historical tendency to regulate without any compelling need to do so.
The city can create a "vibrant transportation market by simply backing off, doing some very basic licensing and providing a very robust insurance requirement." Then, "let the chips fall where they may."
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.