The bill passed by our representatives in Montana to deregulate the taxi industry isn’t very fair. Judge for yourself.
Deregulation means remove regulations. When they passed this bill and our governor signed it, they weren’t very forthcoming in what they were doing. This is their idea of deregulation. Remove all the regulations for Uber and leave all the regulations in place for the taxi companies, except one. The taxi companies still have to pay fees to cities, counties, airports, public service commission, the state, unemployment, and workers comp. Uber has to pay none of these. You would think that a company like Uber that is valued at $66 billion would be able to compensate Montana a little bit in order to operate.
The one part of the bill they did remove from the taxis was to get rid of the monopoly that taxis have on their industry. Even that is a misnomer. Our Legislature saw a problem in that anyone could start a taxi company and thus saturate the market so that no one company made any money. They made rules that would allow a successful company to protect their business by challenging upstarts. They had a veto power. They took this away and made it so that all you have to do to start a taxi company is to apply and show compliance. When I started Glacier Taxi I took everything out of my retirement accounts. There is nothing left. With the changes to this bill, my taxi company is virtually worthless. It would be hard to sell. Why pay any amount of money to buy a taxi company when all you have to do is spend $250 to start your own. There are others in the state who have paid much more than me who are in this same situation.
Uber doesn’t have to have signs on their cars, but all the taxis do. This is in order that you know who you are riding with. It also makes it easy to spot people who are trying to operate illegally. A sign doesn’t cost very much, but evidently Uber doesn’t have enough to pay for them.
The last is insurance. When a taxi company insures a car, it stays insured 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Uber has made a sweet deal where they only have to insure while the driver is under the app (has accepted a fare) and even then there are questions about whether they will be covered in case of an accident. If the taxi companies were to have insurance that was only in place if the vehicle were being used, that could save the taxi companies a lot of money.
Lastly there is an issue of independent contractors that Uber can hire. In the state of Montana if you are an independent contractor, you have to register with the Department of Labor as one. There is a biannual fee of $125. Uber is exempt from this, written into the bill. There are countless people all across the state who should be really upset about this, such as carpenters, truck drivers, carpet layers, the list goes on and on. Why is it that a company worth as much money as Uber is exempt from all this. It is almost as though they paid someone off to get all these breaks.
One last thing, with all the breaks that have been given to this out-of-state company that is worth all that money, do you think they will be reinvesting any of it back into the state of Montana?
Randy Cowger owns Glacier Taxi.
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