PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — Bills that would allow ride-sharing businesses in West Virginia are working their way through the Legislature, but a local taxi service operator has concerns over the safety of these businesses and proposed provisions that he says give these businesses an unfair advantage in how they conduct their business.
HB 4228 and SB 324 would allow companies like Uber and Lyft to operate in the state. These companies utilize a mobile app, which allows consumers with smartphones to submit a trip request which is then routed to drivers in the service who use their own cars to provide the rides to customers.
A similar bill died last year after a group of lawmakers opposed a provision to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender riders from discrimination.
The current bills would require companies to have a Division of Motor Vehicles permit, car insurance, underinsured and uninsured motorist coverage and a zero tolerance drug and alcohol policy.
Scot Heckert, whose family owns the Yellow Taxi in Parkersburg, recently met with lawmakers to discuss his concerns with the service.
As presented, the services would not face the same regulations they do under the state’s Public Service Commission, he said.
”They would just have (these services) buy a permit from the DMV and go wild,” Heckert said.
Heckert has compiled an information packet, detailing news stories and other information, on some of the alleged problems that have resulted from services, like Uber and Lyft, from across the country.
From fines due to misconduct to the collecting of personal information and its security as well as deaths/accidents, alleged assaults, sexual assaults/harassment, alleged kidnappings, felons behind the wheel, instances of DUIs and imposters, Heckert said more needs to be addressed in the proposed bill to protect the public.
There have been instances of Alzheimer’s patients being taken advantage of and beaten up and robbed, Heckert said, adding the background checks the drivers for these companies go through are not as extensive as what his employees have to go through.
”I welcome competition,” Heckert said. ”I don’t welcome being deregulated.
”The PSC protects the citizens of West Virginia. They govern what everyone does who transports people.”
The PSC governs the rates, amount of insurance and does vehicle inspections at least twice a year. Their vehicles have to have the state automotive inspection once a year.
In order to accommodate these companies, there has been talk of deregulating the taxi services, Heckert said.
”The PSC is what keeps the public safe,” Heckert said. ”Why would you want to deregulate what is keeping the public safe and sets the standards?
”Why not deregulate the EPA and put the coal miners back to work and put the state of West Virginia back in business,” Heckert said.
The DMV is not equipped to police what is going on in the transportation industry, Heckert said, whereas the PSC has people to take complaints, investigate and prosecute.
If these companies want to come to West Virginia, there are regulations in the state that businesses have to follow to do business here, he said.
”The laws have been enforced all of these years for transportation companies,” Heckert said.
There are apps being tested in parts of the state for taxi companies.
”The governing law is still the PSC,” Heckert said.
In times of inclement weather, like snow, the taxi company is not allowed to charge more to transport people, Heckert said. These companies can charge more for those times and transport during holidays, he said.
A bill has passed out of the House of Delegates’ Roads and Transportation Committee and has been sent to the Finance Committee. The Senate bill was sent to the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Sen. Bob Ashley, R-Roane, said the House was going to be taking the lead on this issue and the Senate would see how the bill looks once it passes the House and comes to the Senate. Ashley was one of the lawmakers Heckert met with.
”I want to work to make sure there is some consumer protection in this bill,” he said.
However, Ashley is not sure what will be included in the bill by the time it might reach the Senate.
”There is definitely some momentum with this concept,” Ashley said. ”Scot definitely had some legitimate concerns that need to be addressed.”
In his talks with state lawmakers last week, Heckert said a number of them did show concern for some of the safety issues he brought up and amendments are being worked on to address these concerns.
Some amendments deal with worker’s compensation laws and tax issues.
Heckert said if these companies don’t pay into the worker’s compensation system, his company and other taxi companies shouldn’t have to either. The bills, as presented, could exempt these companies from user fees and business and occupancy taxes.
A number of lawmakers think ride-sharing businesses should pay for these things, Heckert added.
Many lawmakers were interested in trying to even the playing field for all involved.
”They also want to work on the safety issues, but that is going to take some time,” Heckert said. ”The only thing I am doing is fighting for the rights and safety of the citizens of West Virginia and for my children and grandchildren.
”I welcome these companies to come here as competition as long as they follow the same rules as the rest of us,” he said.