St. Paul also plans to regulate Lyft, UberX

So-called "TNCs" like Lyft currently operate without regulations in St. Paul and Minneapolis.
So-called "TNCs" like Lyft currently operate without regulations in St. Paul and Minneapolis.
Lyft pic via Alfredo Mendez; St. Paul pic via Meghan Newell

As Minneapolis officials ready a new "transportation network company" ordinance that will regulate cutting-edge taxi-style services like Lyft and UberX for City Council consideration (more on that in coming days), Ricardo Cervantes, St. Paul's director of the Department of Safety and Inspections, tells us his city will soon follow suit.

"We are interested in regulating the TNC companies, and just for your information, we've been working with Minneapolis and with the Metropolitan Airports Commission in regard to the language," Cervantes says. "We're looking at the language Minneapolis is currently proposing, and so we've kinda been walking this walk, doing best practices studies, looking at other cities and seeing how they're regulating TNCs, both for the protection of passengers and drivers."

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"The idea is to have some consistency in laws regarding transportation companies and taxi cabs," Cervantes adds, referring to the city's work with Minneapolis and MAC.

Lyft first opened for business in St. Paul last summer, months before the service rolled out in Minneapolis. The reason? St. Paul's taxi ordinance is less restrictive than Minneapolis, so the company faced less regulatory hurdles east of the river.

But that state of affairs won't last forever, according to Cervantes.

"We have an industry out there that's providing a service, and after understanding how they operate -- that they are a commercial enterprise with for-profit for-hire vehicles, and all other for-profit vehicles are regulated to some extent -- once we recognized that they are indeed a business and should have commercial insurance, it began clear there should be regulations," Cervantes says.

In Minneapolis, the new TNC ordinance will be accompanied by changes to the city's taxi ordinance. Those changes aim to deregulate the industry in certain respects in hopes traditional cabs can compete with the newfangled TNCs. But in St. Paul, there aren't any plans to alter the city's taxi ordinance, at least for now.

"I don't think we've reached that level of discussion with the cab companies, nor vehicle owners here," Cervantes says. (It should be noted that St. Paul, unlike Minneapolis, doesn't regulate cab companies -- the city only regulates vehicles and cab drivers.)

"We would like to engage [cabbies] in conversation to see which, if any, ordinances they [support changing]," he continues. "In Minneapolis, as well as MAC, there was concern that there could be an unfair advantage to TNCs. Taxi cabs are regulated much more vigorously and so that is something we acknowledge, but we haven't gotten to the fine points of which points they would be looking for us to change."

As for the sorts of TNC regulations St. Paul city officials are considering, Cervantes mentions both requiring TNC companies to have commercial insurance policies and to register drivers and cars with the city.

(For more, click to page two.)

"Both [Lyft and UberX] claim to do their own criminal background checks and driver background checks, and both claim to do vehicle inspections meeting certain standards," Cervantes says. "The tool that's used in regulation is a license that would require them to do these things and to have records to share with us, and ensure that inspections are taking place."

But before an ordinance comes before council, Cervantes says the city "will be setting up a meeting to hear concerns from stakeholders in the industry, both from taxis and the TNCs."

Asked what the timeline for putting together a TNC ordinance is, Cervantes says he expects city staff to have something to present to council in about eight weeks.

-- Correction: An earlier version of this report didn't distinguish between UberX and Uber.

Send your story tips to the author, Aaron Rupar. Follow him on Twitter @atrupar.

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