On Wednesday August 6, 2014 the Houston City Council voted on the alterative taxi services Uber and Lyft. In a 10-5 vote, with two City Council members absent, the City Council approved the use of the two “taxi apps”. Council members in opposition of Uber and Lyft were Jerry Davis, Mike Laster, C.O. Bradford, Michael Kubosh, and Jack Christie. The vote required amending the existing Houston City Ordinance, Chapter 46. This ordinance covers taxis, limos, and airport shuttles.
The debate to allow the use of Uber and Lyft lasted around five hours. The majority of the debate focused mainly on amendments offered by council members, ranging from protecting consumers, treating the established industry fairly, and ensuring fair access for the disabled.
Taxi companies opposed the changes to Chapter 46 on the grounds that it treated traditional taxi companies and the taxi app companies disproportionately, in favor of Uber and Lyft. However, the deciding issue was one of insurance. The key factor was whether the drivers would be ensured through their personal insurance or the company’s commercial insurance. Council Members in favor of the Uber and Lyft apps pointed out that while most drivers for these apps will be ensured through their personal insurance, once they pick up a customer, the driver becomes ensured under the company’s insurance. On the other hand, Council Members opposing the use of the transportation apps made the argument that the public would be put at risk by not providing them the full protection of commercial insurance. The problem is that the driver is not covered by the company’s commercial insurance while the drive is engaged in all commercial business on behalf of Uber of Lyft. For example, the drive would only be covered by his personal insurance while driving to pick up a potential customer. This potentially puts the public at risk should the Uber or Lyft drive be involved in an accident while working for Uber or Lyft, yet having no passenger in the car. Consequently the company insurance would not cover this type of situation. It remains to be seen what affect this insurance issue will have.