City-county council looking at loosening taxi regulations

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (JULY 12, 2016) -- In the era of Uber and Lyft, Indianapolis taxi companies are slowly fading into history. A new city-county proposal aims to help bring them into the 21st century.

Taxi cab drivers we and city-county councilor Vop Osili spoke to say the tight city regulations for taxi cabs have hampered their ability to catch up with the on-demand ride services.

Abdelkrim Hachoumi has driven for Indy First Choice Cab Service for seven years. When FOX59 met him on a Tuesday afternoon, he had only made 20 dollars since he started at 6 a.m.

“And from Monday until now, I make no more than 50 dollars,” says Hachoumi. “How am I going to survive?”

Hachoumi says out of all his friends, he’s one of the few taxi drivers that stuck with the business, hoping things would turn around.

“A lot of people quit from this job and go to warehouse or do another job because you know, it’s no more money,” says Hachoumi.

City-county Councilor Vop Osili says several taxi cab companies have folded in recent years.

He believes that’s because, per state law, the city can’t regulate transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft. But they can, and do regulate taxis.

“If you’re busy thinking about, ‘I’ve gotta pay this fee because I have an inspection coming up,” you may not be thinking, how do I make this taxi or this taxicab company super cool?’” says Osili.

Osili’s proposal would change some of the antiquated regulations written decades ago.

Right now, his recommendations include dropping the requirements for two-way radios and paper receipts.

“We are in the age of cellphones and ability to provide instant digital information,” says Osili when asked why those two requirements need to go.

Cabs also wouldn’t have to have Marion County license plates or lights on top to indicate whether a cab is in service.

Taxi drivers wouldn’t be required to drive cars with identical color schemes or wear specific clothes. Right now the law indicates drivers must have “all visible head and facial hair neatly trimmed and combed or brushed”, wearing “a collared shirt or blouse and slacks or skirt, or dress”. It prohibits drivers from wearing “sandals, shorts trunks, collarless shirt, tank top, body shirt, see-through clothing, swim wear or sweat clothing.”

Taxi companies wouldn’t need a central office in Marion County, although they may still be required to have some central operation.

Other regulations concern how fares are posted when they change and how operator logs are stored and submitted.

The council’s Rules and Public Policy committee will also discuss including some suggestions made by drivers like Hachoumi.

Osili envisions creating a taskforce that could work with the industry and other stakeholders to create an amendment that maintains safety standards, but gives taxi companies more wiggle room.

“The fees that are imposed on them to inspect their vehicles, to have their licenses, those cost money and that is valuable money that could be used to go into their pockets,” says Osili.

However, Osili admits even all these changes and innovation on the part of these companies might not be enough to help struggling taxi companies keep their companies afloat.

“I would like to look it at as creating a more level playing field,” says Osili. “But as long as one of the teams has no regulations and the other does, it will never be a level playing field.”

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