Local taxicab operators and their regulators met last week for the first time since Uber was legalized in Virginia, and it went as you might expect.
“Take off our handcuffs and give us a fighting chance,” pleads Chris Brevard, president of N-Route RVA, a new taxi service app he’s pitching to riders and the local cab industry. “This is our lives. … I want to put that out there, please, please, please, this is urgent.”
App-based car services are here to stay, went the grudging sentiment. And if that’s the case, cab company owners told members of the Capital Region Taxicab Advisory Board on Thursday, then go back to Henrico, go back to Hanover, go back to Chesterfield and Richmond and get the OK to free us of nonsensical regulations that do nothing for public safety and everything to keep us from competing.
Topping the list, says the president of Napoleon Taxicab Service, Jonathan Trainum, is to streamline the processing time for driver permits and kill the annual basic taxi orientation class required for a permit. Its yearly repeat “serves no purpose,” he says, “other than to inconvenience a taxi driver’s personal life.”
And throw in an end to the mileage and age limits on perfectly good vehicles and cap the number of taxis allowed to operate in the metro area based on population, Airport Taxi owner Earmias Getahun says.
Getahun told the board that in January 2014, Henrico County inspected 500 taxis. “This year, it was 400,” he says. “So the fleet is already down 20 percent. Uber is growing fast and we are going down.”
An Uber spokesperson declines to say how many drivers it has in the Richmond area. Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed a bill last month clearing the way for Uber and Lyft to operate legally in Virginia under a new regulatory framework. The taxicab advisory board, which coordinates industry regulations set by jurisdictions in the metro area, agreed to reconvene next month with guidance on updated local regulations.
So if the taxi fleet is down by 100 in Henrico, where did all those drivers go, a skeptic asked Getahun after the meeting. “Uber,” he says.
For more money? No, he says. They’re afraid Uber will limit the number of drivers it has and they want to get in now. “They are thinking toward the future,” he says.
Did they tell you they were going to Uber? “I find out later,” Getahun says. “They don’t have the guts to come telling us that. Well, one guy did ask me if he could do both. I told him no. You have to pick.”