Rep Alan Powell On UBER, LYFT, and The Taxi Monopoly

February 24, 2014 11:30 am

by Charlie · 20 comments

I’m a happy UBER customer.  I can’t imagine moving around DC without them (or without DC Metro).  I’ve begun to use them on occasion here in Atlanta as well.  I’ve never had a bad customer experience with them.

I also know Representative Alan Powell.  He’s always been a straight shooter and plain talking guy.  He doesn’t mince words, and I haven’t known him to be someone who works on matters of hidden agendas.

A lot of us in social media who like UBER and don’t want their business to be killed by the taxi cab industry have jumped on Rep Powell’s bill and, quite frankly, made it unnecessarily personal and have been over the top rude.  This isn’t necessary for public debate, and doesn’t serve public discourse.

At a hearing last week, Powell asked the Atlanta General Manager of Uber five times how his proposal would hurt UBER’s business.  He didn’t have an answer.  Frankly, for all the vitriol we’ve fired over this bill assuming it was designed to kill UBER, he should have.  Not being able to articulate one is a problem.

Powell tells me his primary concern is one of ensuring that UBER’s drivers pass background checks and that their cars are insured.  I don’t think ensuring that a car I contract for hire is insured and that a minimum background check is performed.

That said, I do agree that Powell’s efforts should be focused on opening up the taxicab monopoly, not punishing those who have innovated it.  Apparently, so does Rep Powell.  I’ll let him explain that in his own words.  Below is an email he sent to his fellow legislators.  I think we’re now on the right track here.

 

 

Re: HB 907

Dear Colleagues,

I have received a number of inquires from many members concerning HB 907.  There has been a lot of misinformation on motive as well as the substance. Technology and innovation is creating a lot of new business models for society’s benefit, such is the case of smart phone app transportation referral.

As a legislative veteran my concern is for the public’s safety. There are some social net-workers who say whats the need for background checks for drivers, I say its to prevent criminals from doing harm. Most law abiding citizens never worry until a criminal act has happened.

I encourage you to look at the Committee Sub as passed and call me with your thoughts or questions. Included below is the explanation and background of HB 907 as emailed to our citizens.

Thanks,
Alan Powell 32nd

There is a lot of misinformation concerning pending legislation HB 907. Despite the social networking grapevine there is nothing proposed that would stifle the UBER and LYFT business model, much less put them out of business.

In Georgia we don’t require much of those who drive and operate ‘for hire‘ transportation but we do expect them to have a State certified criminal/ driving record background check  to  assure that you, your wife, daughter or girlfriend or anyone else is relatively safe when being picked up. Heaven forbid a sex molester or other deviant might pray on the unsuspecting. Also driving record screening should have some importance, I don’t think a multiple DUI offender offering their services would be cool. This has been accomplished by participating drivers obtained a Georgia drivers license from the DDS with a Limo attachment as required of all Limo drivers. And by the way that process only requires one to have their GCIC ( criminal background)  background run and the cost of the license is the same as a regular drivers license.

Two other issues for the public good would be to require a minimum liability insurance and that the drivers or service pay their sales tax that is current law.

*The current proposal defines what is a  ‘transportation referral company’.
*Requires the company to register with the Dept of Public Safety and electronically submit their drivers names.
*Allows companies to affirm they have done the background check or drivers can use a chauffeurs attachment.
*Requires 300k minimum liability insurance.
*Establishes a Legislative study committee to look at deregulation of the taxi and Limo industry.

This is a public safety issue. I for one like the business model for the new transportation phone apps. This might afford those of us in rural Georgia a for pay transportation conveyance.

Regards, Alan Powell

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

DavidTC February 24, 2014 at 12:02 pm

assure that you, your wife, daughter or girlfriend or anyone else is relatively safe

Why, oh why, do people feel the need the need to use gendered language like this? Would it really been too hard to use ‘you, your spouse, children, or significant other’ , or just the generic ‘you or someone you love’?

It’s amazing how many politicians seem to operate under the idea they’re talking to *men*, and women only exist as something that men should protect. Including the weird assumption that only *daughters* need to be protected, not sons. Presumably by men (Or at least people who have wives and/or girlfriends), and not women.

This may seem a quibble, a mere technicality, but this wasn’t an off-the-cuff comment, it wasn’t even an individual reply to a question…this is an actual letter that Alan Powell emailed to everyone that presumably went through some sort of proofreading, and no one noticed it operates under the assumption that the reader is male and that women exist just to be protected, and not as thinking entities in their own rights.

Jon Lester February 25, 2014 at 9:53 am

Makes me wonder how often he takes a cab. I’ve had a few good friends in the business, but I’ve also known some real scumbags doing it, too.

South Fulton Guy February 24, 2014 at 12:19 pm

Great point DavidTC

Noway February 24, 2014 at 12:22 pm

“Why, oh why, do people feel the need the need to use gendered language like this?” Seriously?
David, to quote Joseph Conrad in “The Heart of Darkness”…”The Horror, the horror….”
(Eye roll…)

DavidTC February 24, 2014 at 12:36 pm

Ah, yes, because it’s in no way off-putting for half the population to not even be acknowledged to exist. Please pretend that is a completely minor issue.

Noway February 24, 2014 at 12:45 pm

“or anyone else is relatively safe…”
Hey Dave, I believe that phrase covers the sons you think have been horribly damaged by Rep. Powell’s “sexist” writings….Oh, I especially liked your bolded “no one” in your post. Good touch on such an important issue facing the voters of Georgia! I, for one, will undoubtedly sleep better tonight.

DavidTC February 24, 2014 at 2:30 pm

First, I like how you have no idea how to use the website or how to reply to people.

Second, if you think my objection was leaving off *sons*, you’re an idiot. The reasons that ‘sons’ was left out is that Powell was talking to men, and thus he didn’t need to talk about people’s ‘sons’, because he was talking to the sons themselves. He thinks any young man who is old enough to hire a taxi is competent enough to protect themselves.

It’s the women who Powell apparently thinks can’t protect themselves, and women that he isn’t even bothering to talk to.

And if you think ‘Or anyone else’ solves the problem, you’re an idiot. The problem isn’t that he didn’t include people, the problem is that he appears to think the people he’s talking to generally only have wives or girlfriends. (And he’s willing to include anyone else they might have.)

Here’s an interesting fact: Approximately the same number of people have husbands and boyfriends as have wives and girlfriends. (Barring some imbalance in gay people genders.) Somehow, those people don’t appear to be who he’s talking to.

drjay February 24, 2014 at 3:08 pm

well the letter is addressed to his colleagues–about 140 of which are men, and of the 40 or so that are women most of them are from the other caucus and i don’t know if he was really talking to the dems or not…so meh…

DavidTC February 24, 2014 at 3:48 pm

That would be somewhat excusable, but I’m pretty certain that’s not who he’s talking to. The first part of his reply *is* addressed to other members, but he concludes that part by saying ‘Included below is the explanation and background of HB 907 as emailed to our citizens.’ (Emphasis mine.)

The remainder of that, the part with the ‘I am only talk to men’ language, is a form letter his office emails to people who have comments and concerns about HB 907.

Like I said, this entire thing would be excusable if this was just some off-the-cuff comment or a comment to a specific person or something, but this is apparently a form letter to everyone…everyone who has ‘wives’ and ‘girlfriends’, that is. The idea of a legislator communicating with people who have ‘husbands’ or ‘boyfriends’ is just crazy talk. Those people apparently aren’t important.

Tiberius February 24, 2014 at 1:33 pm

The leading blogger on this should off an apology to Rep. Powell for calling him an “a…hole” on FB and implying if not down right saying he and the co-sponsors are corrupt. But it will never happen—such attacks on social media are now par for the course. Sad.

Noway February 24, 2014 at 4:27 pm

Keep posting your rage, David. The folks reading your entries are seeing the “idiot.” I’m also thinking about the phrase, “making mountains out of molehills.” I think that applies to your preposterous outrage…

Jeremy50 February 24, 2014 at 5:02 pm

My apologies but breaking laws and avoiding taxes is not innovation. The hypocrisy and plain lies generated and sponsored by Uber, Lyft and other “ride-sharers” are way under-reported. The most trivial of them would be Uber claiming to not be a cab operator but yet naming the company itself “Uber Cab”, then quietly removing the word Cab after realizing that it can skip hefty regulatory and other expenses simply by playing the words game. Regulation was born to regulate already unregulated and chaotic industry decades ago. There is nothing new under the sun. Technology may change but it will be madness to not regulate public taxi service which Uber is an absolute part of.

DavidTC February 24, 2014 at 7:43 pm

Indeed, and the real joke here is that we barely regulate taxis in this state at all, so having to comply with the downright-trivial regulation is not some sort of issue.

I especially like the fact they’re going to have to pay sales tax. Oh noes! Not sales tax, that thing every other business in operation has to charge!

Technology allows us to nearly completely deregulate taxis, without compromising passenger safety. (There are some other reasons that taxis might need regulation, but few of them apply in non-urban areas.)

In fact, if we were clever, we could probably figure out a way to let people give rides to others, either pay, or, hell, hitchhiking, without any sort of background checks. How about the the DOT issuing, upon request, some sort of phone-scannable medallion that is linked to us, and if we give someone a ride they scan it, check our picture, and it emails that to a secure location?

And now everyone knows we gave them a ride and if they don’t show up, who to ask questions of. (And if *we* don’t show up they know who to ask also.)

Some sort of voluntary ‘I don’t actually know this person, and he doesn’t know me, but we have both recorded each other’s identity and stored that somewhere so if one of us vanish, we’ll know what happened.’ system would be a *very* inexpensive, and yet replace a lot of the background checks required these days.

All this work, all this time and effort Georgia is making us do to verify who we are to it, but we still have no way to confirm someone is who they say they are except via hoping their license is real. We can’t even scan the damn barcode and check it matches the info on the front. (Due to idiotic ‘privacy’ concerns, despite the fact that if someone can scan the back of the thing, they can just as easily take a photo of the front and record that. Of course, that’s useless until they will invent computers that can digitize text. Wait, that already happened decades ago.)

Harry February 24, 2014 at 7:56 pm

Are we sure that Uber and Lyft are not paying sales tax?

DavidTC February 25, 2014 at 12:39 pm

I don’t know. If they are already paying, then there’s no problem with clarifying the code.

But they could conceivably not be. If people are buying rides from Uber, and Uber does not have a physical presence in this state, they could argue they don’t have to collect sales tax. (Legally, state residents are supposed to collect the sales tax for their out-of-state purchases themselves and turn it in every year…and no one does that.)

Of course, the problem with that argument is the reason it works is that, if non-local businesses don’t collect state sales tax, there’s nothing anyone in the government can do about it. (At least without stepping onto Federal turf by trying to regulate interstate commerce by stopping state residents from buying from that company.) Georgia does not have any teeth to force Amazon to collect sales tax here, because Georgia can’t do anything to Amazon.

Whereas in these circumstances, the state clearly does have the ability to threaten Uber if Uber is not collecting taxes…they can simply disallow Uber from operating here. Uber may try to argue it doesn’t have a physical corporate presence here (And, like I said, I have no idea if they’re *actually* taking this tack, they may already pay sales tax.), but, uh, they really do.

So even if Uber and Lyft are already paying sales tax, it’s a good idea to get this explicitly coded into law. We should, right now, clarify that if you have ‘your’ people wandering around doing regulated things in this state, you have a physical presence in this state and you will collect required sales taxes.

DavidTC February 25, 2014 at 12:51 pm

That is not to say that ‘sales tax’ is the best way to tax taxis. I’m saying the state of Georgia should clarify they have the right to collect sales tax on such interstate contractual agreements, and that sales tax applies unless otherwise stated.

I think we should actually create a general purpose law to this effect….if you are in Georgia, and the person who is doing the service for you is in Georgia, we have the right to demand the collection of sales tax on that, even if your credit card was run in some other state and that company instantly hired the person in Georgia to do that for you. We do not accept such a setup as a way to avoid collecting sales tax. You have people in Georgia doing work for you in Georgia, you have a ‘physical presence’ in Georgia.

However, with regard to taxis specifically, there might be other way to tax them that are better. Mileage tax, for example. I have no idea.

Harry February 25, 2014 at 1:29 pm

What you’re really saying is, you have no idea. If Uber and Lyft aren’t collecting and/or remitting sales tax, all their competition has to do is pick up the phone and call (877) 423-6711.

DavidTC February 26, 2014 at 2:56 pm

Erm, no, what I’m really saying is that if Uber and Lyft are already paying says tax, there’s no logical reason to not have that in the bill.

Harry February 26, 2014 at 3:39 pm

You mean there’s no logical reason to have it in the bill? The basic issue is, if there are legitimate issues with the business of Uber/Lyft or the legacy regulation of the cab industry, then that should be addressed in any legislation. Otherwise, keep your cotton pickin’ hands off.

MattMD February 25, 2014 at 12:13 am

He still sounds pretty ignorant to me.

What happens if the DUI’s dropped off the driver’s MVR? Would that still be “cool”? You have to posses a valid license issued by the State and valid insurance to drive for any of these companies. If you have a serious driving violation you have to get an SR-22 policy (assuming you are eligible to be licensed) which I’m 100% sure would disqualify you on the spot.

Do sex offenders take up jobs as “for hire” drivers on routine occasion? This sounds like a non-sequitur.

This sounds like another clown-bill by one of the less-prestigious deliberating bodies in the nation.