Lawmakers, municipalities in tug-of-war over ride-sharing control
Last updated at 8:53 p.m. on Tuesday, March 21
After public testimony and debate, the Anchorage Assembly passed an ordinance Tuesday night that would set up regulations for ride-sharing companies like Uber or Lyft. But the vote won’t mean much if the Alaska Legislature passes Senate Bill 14 this session.
It all boils down to whether the state or municipalities should have the authority to make the rules for drivers with the companies.
Sen. Mia Costello, sponsor of SB 14, calls Tuesday’s Anchorage Assembly meeting case in point — the reason why the state should take control of setting regulations on ride-sharing operations, because leaving that up to municipalities would stall start-up.
“I look at what’s happening and I say, how is that working? How many years has Uber and other transportation network companies tried to enter the Anchorage market? It’s not working,” Costello said in an interview Tuesday.
But municipalities are pushing back.
“This should be regulated by the people who live in that community, they know what their community wants,” Kathie Wasserman, the executive director of the Alaska Municipal League, said of the measure. “It’s not for the state to step in and say.”
In the middle of the power struggle between the state and municipalities, some Alaskans say they’re losing.
Sam Moore is legally blind, and lives his life in Anchorage around the bus schedule, but public transportation has its limits. Even in the city, there are some places the bus won’t go.
“You can’t really get to the zoo, you can’t get to Kincaid, you can’t get to any number of houses on the hillside,” Moore said. “I would love to go eat at the Double Musky Inn this weekend. I can’t do that without a $100 taxi ride to get there.”
That’s why he sees ride-sharing companies like Uber or Lyft as a saving grace, a less-expensive way to get around in and outside of Anchorage. Moore flew to Juneau last week to urge members of the House Labor and Commerce Committee to advance the bill with statewide regulatory framework because Uber and Lyft only want to come if it’s on a statewide basis.
“We’re an industry that wants to be regulated, we just want to work under one set of regulation, not a patchwork of regulation, municipality by municipality,” said Scott Coriell, communications manager for Lyft.
But members of the taxicab and tourism industries fear drivers of ride-sharing companies won’t be held to the same standards under statewide regulation. Some in Juneau worry the new drivers will gum up already tight traffic around cruise ship docks.
“There will be no place for them to park and no place for them to wait,” said Dennis Harris, who runs Juneau Custom Tours. “There’s limited loading zones and most of them are reserved for people that have permits.”
A House version of Costello’s bill is going through some changes, including a provision aimed at giving municipalities more control. It clarifies that Uber and Lyft drivers have to follow local traffic laws and lets municipalities charge a sales tax.
SB 14 is expected for a vote on the Senate floor as early as Thursday.
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