L.A. to re-examine regulations controlling city's taxi companies

L.A. aims to level the playing field for taxi firms competing with new, app-based ride-sharing businesses

In a push to level the playing field for taxi firms competing with new, app-based ride-sharing businesses, Los Angeles officials agreed Thursday to re-examine hundreds of regulations that control the city's nine licensed cab companies.

At the urging of Mayor Eric Garcetti, the five members of the Board of Taxicab Commissioners said they would review a 64-page taxi rulebook with an eye toward scrapping some regulations and modifying others that put cabs at a competitive disadvantage.

In a letter sent to the taxi board Wednesday, Garcetti urged the officials to "take all steps necessary to ensure equal competition." The growth of companies such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar means taxi officials need to update policies, including those governing availability of cabs and rates that can be charged, Garcetti wrote.

Lyft, Uber and Sidecar are regulated by the California Public Utility Commission and are not subject to Los Angeles taxi rules. However, city officials could modify existing policies, allowing more taxis to operate in the city or granting them more flexibility in setting fares.

Other U.S. cities, including Chicago, Houston and Seattle, have moved to impose controls on ride-sharing firms, requiring driver training, insurance policies and vehicle inspections. Los Angeles is the first major city to pursue the opposite strategy: easing regulations for legacy cab operations.

Garcetti's office did not respond to an interview request Thursday. Eric Spiegelman, the president of the taxi commission, declined to comment.

Customers summon ride-sharing services using smartphone apps, and drivers transport passengers in personal vehicles. The services are often marketed as a cheaper, more casual alternative to taxis and have rapidly gained popularity in L.A.

Uber, Lyft and Sidecar use flexible pricing models, called "surge pricing" or "prime time," that increase during peak periods, such as nights and weekends.

In contrast, Los Angeles' regulated cabs are required to charge fixed rates: $2.85 when a ride begins, and $2.70 for each subsequent mile. The City Council has capped the number of cabs in the city at 2,300, split among nine licensed companies.

The taxi commission's review of current rules will require "cooperation and regulation" from the state, Garcetti said in his letter. The statewide Public Utilities Commission requires ride-sharing services to obtain permits and comply with safety requirements, including vehicle inspections, basic insurance coverage and driver background checks.

Garcetti asked city taxi officials to present recommendations by the end of the year. Major policy changes, including ones involving fares, would have to be approved by the City Council.

laura.nelson@latimes.com

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