Taxi drivers protest Assembly vote with profanity-laced interruption
The Anchorage Assembly passed a controversial ordinance aimed at making the taxicab industry more competitive despite the profanity-laced interruption from a handful of drivers in the audience.
The ordinance lowers permit fees and removes some of the municipal regulations that cab drivers say are helping ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft take away their business. However, it did not include something that taxi cab drivers were pushing for: taking new taxi cab permits off the market. That amendment failed, angering several drivers who showed up to see what the Assembly would do.
“Right now, I’m behind on my mortgage my electricity got cut off for the first time and you want to put more cabs out there?” one cab driver said.
It took Security officers several minutes to get the driver to leave the chambers. Assembly member Christopher Constant argued that they weren’t the bad guys, however. He told the drivers that the Muni is doing everything they can to help them, but that the real people at fault are the state lawmakers who passed a bill that made it legal for the ride-sharing companies to operate in Anchorage.
“They took away from us the ability to regulate your competitors off the table and I am just sickened to my gut. They have taken from Anchorage the power to do this and so please take whatever it is you're feeling to them and throw the bastards out,” said Constant.
Instead of getting rid of new permits, Constant introduced an ordinance that will require the Muni to find out more data about how Uber and Lyft have impacted the market. The ordinance passed and now the study must be finished by December 1.
Assembly members agreed that the ordinance they passed wasn’t perfect. Assembly members Eric Croft and Amy Demboski argued that a big part of the problem with Anchorage’s taxicab industry is the monopoly in the dispatch system. Croft expressed interest in allowing the different companies to self-dispatch. Demboski told Croft that it was something she would support looking into.
“This has been the most passionate issue I've dealt with on the Assembly next to AO-37 and there's no question we're dealing with people's livelihoods and we're dealing with a system that was set up probably before you and I were born,” said Demboski.
Before the vote, the sponsor of the bill, Forrest Dunbar said it was time to finally vote on the issue. It’s been delayed several times while assembly members hashed out amendments and Dunbar said that wasn’t fair to the industry, which has shown up every time the issue is on the agenda.
“I'm sympathetic that every time we bring this up the industry turns out and we're sort of holding them in limbo and I think we need to give them certainty and hopefully this will be the last taxi ordinance for a while,” Dunbar said.
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