With ride-sharing companies such as Lyft and Uber changing the transportation landscape, Palo Alto officials are preparing to pass a new law to make life a little easier for local taxi drivers.
The city is considering changing an existing law that requires taxicab fares to be determined by a taximeter -- a tool that electronically calculates the fee. The traditional tool does not, however, allow cabbies to change fares based on demand -- an impediment that puts taxis at a competitive disadvantage.
The amendment that the council's Policy and Services Committee is set to consider on Tuesday would allow taxicabs to lower their rates if the demand is low. It would also allow customers to see and accept these fares through a mobile app or an online service, much like Uber and Lyft.
According to a new report from the Police Department, which regulates taxicab services, the rates will be the same as on the taximeter or, if the demand is lower, reduced. For hailed rides and those requested by phone, the taximeter would continue to be used.
The new law would not, however, allow taxicab drivers to surge up their fares during high-demand times. The report from the city notes that "at no time will the rate exceed the standard taximeter rate."
Palo Alto is one of several cities that are pursuing or have implemented revisions to their taxicab ordinances. Unlike ride-sharing companies, which are regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission, taxi services are regulated by individual cities. San Jose and Santa Clara have each recently revised their ordinances to allow taxi fares to be arranged through apps and online services.
"The emergence of TNCs (transportation network companies) has disrupted the taxicab industry, and the legacy regulations make it hard for taxicabs to compete for fares," the report from the Police Department states. "Staff believes the recommended ordinance changes will level the playing field and allow taxicab companies to utilize technology to compete in the space."