In an unexpected show of frustration with a city policy, area taxi drivers protested a licensing requirement at Tuesday's Colorado Springs City Council meeting, saying employees of ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft have an unfair advantage because they are not held to the same standard.
Taxi cab drivers must pay the city an annual $97 fee, which covers the renewal of their business license and routine background checks. But drivers for the smartphone apps' services are not subject to the cost.
"All we're asking for is fairness and equity of regulation," said Bland Rooker, one of at least 10 cab drivers who attended the meeting, while addressing the council.
The fee, which includes $7 for the background check, is the same rate paid by many other business professionals licensed by the city, such as food peddlers and private security officers. The requirement has been in place for decades, long before Uber and Lyft became popular, said City Clerk Sarah Johnson.
Taxi drivers who spoke at the meeting also pointed to a slew of other costs - including lights and signage to mark cabs, medical examinations to ensure that drivers are fit for the job, and state-administered background checks - that they said drivers for the ride-hailing services don't have to pay out of pocket.
Many of the requirements mentioned are not imposed by the city, but by the state's Public Utilities Commission, a division of the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies.
"I have no problem with competition, as long as it's on a level playing field," taxi driver Patrick Maher told the council. "The problem with Uber and Lyft is (they are) not on a level playing field."
Taylor Patterson, a spokeswoman for Uber, said the company's drivers pay for gas, personal vehicle insurance, routine maintenance and some safety inspections. But drivers don't have to foot the bill for the one-time background check that's part of the registration process, Patterson said.
A Lyft communication official contacted Tuesday evening did not respond when asked what costs the company's drivers are responsible for.
Councilmen Don Knight and Bill Murray called for more education to help the council understand the differences in city and state requirements.
"We should never let the public come up and make statements about this without being proactive and asking for review, evaluation and recommendation from the City Attorney's Office and the mayor's staff," Murray said.
Median ordinance passes
The council also unanimously approved a controversial ordinance that bars pedestrians from narrow, peaked medians on busy streets.
The ordinance, which some say unfairly targets homeless people, will apply to medians on streets that see a minimum of 25,000 cars each day and experience traffic moving 30 mph or faster.
Medians at least 4 feet in diameter and with a grade of 8 percent or less still can be occupied.
Under the law, the banned medians will be labeled with signs. Violators could face a fine of up to $500, probation or both. But if someone can't pay the fine, they won't be jailed, city officials said in a Tuesday news release.
An amendment introduced Tuesday to add a warning period to enforcement was struck down in a 7-2 vote, with Councilman Bill Murray and Council President Pro Tem Jill Gaebler dissenting.
The ordinance will take effect in about 10 days, on Feb. 24, city officials said.
In other business, the City Council:
- Passed an ordinance that will prohibit smoking and vaping on Mountain Metropolitan Transit buses and at the downtown bus terminal at 127 E. Kiowa St. beginning March 15.
- Approved a land exchange that will allow the city to obtain a roughly 58-acre parcel of land near Powers Boulevard and Old Ranch Road - the proposed site for the Larry Ochs Sports Complex. The council also agreed to appropriate $60,000 for the complex's planning process.
- Unanimously voted to adopt a master facilities plan for Shooks Run Corridor. The plan includes improvements such as new trail connections and upgrades to roads, bridges and stormwater infrastructure along the 4-mile corridor, which runs north-south just east of downtown.
Contact Rachel Riley: 636-0108