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Louisiana Legislature puts the brakes on uniform ridesharing regulations again

May 8, 2018
By Caitie Burkes
Originally Posted on Greater Baton Rouge Business Report

A bill that would have made Louisiana the 46th state to regulate ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft was put on hold by Senate Judiciary Commission A today to carve out time for more discussion.

Supporters of the legislation—which sailed through the House by a 97-1 vote in April—say it promotes free enterprise and helps prevent drunk driving. Opponents argue it would give ridesharing services, otherwise known as transportation network companies or TNCs, an unfair advantage over traditional taxi cab companies.

In a nutshell, House Bill 749 by House Speaker Taylor Barras outlines how Uber and Lyft drivers would obtain permits, undergo background checks and how much of their earnings would go back to the state, among other guidelines, under a single set of state-created rules. Under current law, TNCs follow local regulations, which can vary from city to city.

During last year’s regular session, the bill was killed on the Senate floor because it did not grandfather in existing fee agreements cities, like Baton Rouge and New Orleans, have with the companies. Though Barras’ bill does allow for those fee arrangements to continue, new concerns involving governmental supervision, fair competition and public records popped up this time around.

“Why the hell is [Uber/Lyft] regulated by the Department of Agriculture?” asks Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Metairie, who wonders why the services wouldn’t be regulated by the Public Service Commission under the proposed law.

Since TNCs aren’t defined as “common carriers,” Public Service Commission representatives say they would not fall under the commission’s supervision.

Still, Martiny says he thinks because Uber and Lyft essentially provide the same services as cab companies, they should be treated equally in the eyes of the law. That means undergoing the same strenuous federal inspections cab companies must go through, he says.

“I’m interested in a level playing field, and I’m not seeing it here,” Martiny says.

Scott Sternberg, speaking on behalf of the Louisiana Press Association, says he’s also worried about the bill’s language regarding public records availability, arguing in its current posture it implies the Department of Agriculture will not make its documents easily accessible to the public.

However, TNC representatives say the proposal offers consistency in its regulations, such as vehicle age requirements, which often differ across city boundaries. The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry has been one of the loudest voices backing the proposed state regulations, which would go into effect March 1.

LABI Trade, Transportation and Tourism Director Courtney Baker says the existing “patchwork of inconsistent local regulations” allows some communities to have access to ridesharing and not others.

Barras notes his bill would expand the option for ridesharing services to move into areas across Louisiana’s 308 municipalities, especially benefitting the smaller ones. For example, residents from Lafayette’s satellite communities, which do not currently have access to ridesharing services, would be able to commute to and from the city via Uber or Lyft, he says.

Baker calls it “common-sense legislation” that would let drivers earn money across parish lines without confusion and would offer safe, reliable transportation to users at the tap of a button.

“We need to start embracing the innovation … because we’re last in everything,” Baker says.

Uber officially launched in Baton Rouge in 2014, and Lyft started operating in the city in January of last year.