Behind the sushi counter
The emergence of rideshare services like Uber and Lyft prompted state lawmakers this year to remove local oversight of the taxi industry.
And while some local taxi companies are not worried about competing heavily with ridesharing services for business, others are concerned that the change in oversight will lead to a proliferation of illegal cabs across Hall County.
And city officials wonder what the changes mean for the safety and welfare of both riders and drivers.
The Department of Public Safety is now responsible for licensing and permitting taxi drivers, and Gainesville will soon scrap its entire ordinance regulating cabs.
“The city cannot control who drives a taxi,” said Councilwoman Myrtle Figueras.
Assistant City Attorney John Breakfield said the changes at the state level are likely part of deregulating the industry as Uber and Lyft become more popular.
Throwing out the city’s ordinance will likely bring an end to a cap on the number of taxis that can operate locally, which is currently set at 185.
Erbey Rebollar, whose family owns Taxi El Palmar, said he believes the changes could hurt his business.
He has met with city officials in recent weeks to better understand just how his business will be impacted.
“At the end of the day, it’s going to affect our business big time,” he said. “It’s just going to open doors. We’ve always had problems with illegal taxi cabs here in town. It’s going to make it worse.”
On the other hand, Evelio Miranda, owner of El Dorado Taxi in Gainesville, said he is confident his business will not be hurt by the likes of Uber and Lyft.
Miranda’s client base is Latinos. He regularly makes pick-ups at local poultry plants, Wal-Mart and other places where immigrants work and reside.
For 10 years, he has built up trust, and he doesn’t foresee losing that overnight.
“The people know the drivers already, know the companies,” Miranda said, speaking through an interpreter.
Though their hands are tied, city officials said they are worried about the safety of taxi drivers and their customers without local oversight.
Taxi driver Isaias Tovar-Murillo was murdered March 15. Five individuals have been charged in his death.
City Marshal Debbie Jones said the city conducted background checks annually on drivers, but the state will not do so.
“There’s not much we can do about that since the state has pre-empted everything,” Jones said, adding that the change does give her “pause for concern.”
Scrapping the ordinance makes sense, however, because it now lacks teeth and would be an administrative burden to keep on the books, officials said.
“Right now, I don’t see any point in having an ordinance,” said Councilwoman Ruth Bruner.