It could be a lengthy wait for those hoping to catch a ride using a ride-booking app.

It would likely take a change in the Tyler's ordinances to allow Uber or Lyft to operate in the city limits.

City leaders were approached about a month ago by the ride-booking software company, which also presented Tyler with a draft of what the company considers its ideal transportation ordinance for operations in the city.

The owner of the city's existing taxi service thinks the ordinance, if approved as is, would give Uber or Lyft an unfair advantage over a traditional taxi service.

He cited public safety concerns and potential hardships for the poor, which make up a large percentage of taxi ridership.

Currently, the city has its own public transit and paratransit service. But there is also a taxi service, NDMJ Transportation, LTD, the parent company of Tyler Taxi and Tyler Car Service. That company also has contracts with the city of Tyler to help with overflow for its paratransit service, and a contract with the Texas Department of Transportation. 

City Manager Ed Broussard said the city is evaluating its ordinance and looking at what has worked in other cities for the digital platforms. No timeline has been given for that evaluation, but he said the city would aim to balance the safety of the public with free enterprise.

The Uber representative who approached Tyler referred all questions to the company's media relations team. That team did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

 

PUBLIC NECESSITY

Getting any new taxi service, traditional or digital, into the city is difficult as the rules are written.

After submitting an application to the city, a public hearing is called, according to the city's current taxi ordinance.

During that hearing, the company must make a case before the city council that the proposed service is needed in Tyler.

"The burden of proof shall be upon the operator to establish by clear, cogent and convincing evidence that the public convenience and necessity require the operation for which the application has been made, that the operator is a fit and proper person to operate such service, and has or intends to comply with all applicable city ordinances and state laws," the ordinance reads.

The taxi service must also be a 24 hour, seven day a week operation and have meters in every vehicle in the fleet and service the Tyler Pounds Regional Airport. The ordinance also outlines the maximum fare that can be charged per mile.

The application can be denied if the new service would adversely affect the total taxi service in the city or the overall cost or quality.

Jamal Moharer, president of NDMJ Transportation, said his company truly cares for the Tyler area, and often steps up to the plate to make sure people get home safely.

On Wednesday, the company took over operations for the East Texas Council of Government Go Buses after they ceased operations because of flooding and road closures.

Free rides were given, he said.

"People were stranded in rural Smith County," Moharer said. "We picked them up and took them where they wanted to go and then took them home. We are intimately familiar with the roads and geographical community. We never closed."

During snowy weather last year, the company worked with the Tyler Police Department to pick up anyone at bus stops who didn't know Tyler Transit stopped operations due to weather.

The company also participates in a safe ride program during drinking holidays.

"(Uber) would have to add value to our community rather than devalue what we already have, and it would be difficult, but not impossible, (to show) that what they offer would bring value and safety to what we already have," Moharer said.

But, "public necessity clauses" have been struck down by lawsuits in other cities, said Walter Williams, economic professor at George Williams University. The syndicated writer's column is a regular feature in the Tyler Morning Telegraph.

"The public need necessity is a generally a procedure to monopolize markets," Williams said by phone Thursday. "When they have these hearings, the incumbent show up with attorneys and say, ‘we are providing all services needed and we don't need new (companies).' That's just a ruse for maintaining a monopoly."

Williams added that Uber and similar companies benefit the poor because competition brings down prices, and opens up opportunities for would-be entrepreneurs.

LEVEL PLAYING FIELD

Uber's proposal, as is, would create separate list of requirements for "technology network companies."

Moharer strongly objects to the creation of separate rules for apps.

"Uber has nothing to do with free enterprise and a free marketplace," Moharer said. "If Uber wants to come to Tyler, they should come and should be able to set up operations as long as they comply with the rules, policies and procedures that have put in place and I have been able to comply with for 30 years.

"It is not a free enterprise when they come in they come in and say, ‘city of Tyler, you have to change your rules so we can play.' It doesn't matter how big you are, you should not be able to steamroll your way into a city."

But Austin, Houston and Dallas have adopted regulations for the technology network companies, as well as smaller cities including Beaumont and Corpus Christi, among others.

Moharer said those regulations vary from those he operates under, and they should be the same for both types of businesses.

That includes the requirement that the business operates 24 hours a day and pick up passengers with disabilities.

"We are required by federal rules to accommodate people with disabilities," he said. "If you are in a wheelchair, good luck trying to call Uber. What gives Uber the right to discriminate against people with disabilities?"

Moharer is also regulated on how much he can charge per mile while Uber's pricing model fluctuates based on demand.

He also advocates that drivers should also be subject to a criminal background check completed by the Tyler Police department.

Moharer called the ride booking companies unsafe because of their hiring and background practices. Drivers have made headlines for a variety of crimes including sexual assaults, kidnapping and theft.

In his 28 years in business, he said, no Tylerite has been harmed by one of his drivers.

"If we argue free enterprise, then we need to go by the rules of free enterprise," he said. "This is not free enterprise. This is a regulated business. To say change your regulations so I can play that - would be a bully."

Twitter: @TMTFaith

 

 
 

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Digital Content Manager

Faith Harper is an East Texas native working for her hometown newspaper. She specializes in digital content for the Tyler Morning Telegraph. In her spare time, she loves tacos, road trips and is currently learning to sail.