Connecticut debates how to regulate ride-hailing services, Uber drivers descend on Capitol

Industrials Associated Press

Connecticut is the latest state to grapple with how to regulate Uber and other ride-hailing services being embraced by the public but angering the long-established taxi and livery industry.

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Taxi and livery drivers say they're under assault by unfair competition from the likes of Uber Technologies, whose drivers use their own cars instead of renting them.

"We're making less money, and we're going through the proper credentials, insurance processes, that are passed by the state," said Ernie Pagliari, a cab driver for the past 20 years with Greenwich Taxi Inc. who described losing business to Uber. "These gypsies are in here, coming in and low-balling the prices."

Connecticut taxi and limousine companies recently filed a federal lawsuit against Uber, arguing it's essentially an unregulated taxi service and should be subject to the same rules.

Drivers for Uber, however, urged the General Assembly's Transportation Committee on Monday to craft rules that allow them to continue operating in Connecticut. Uber said it has been operating in Connecticut since April 2014 and there are thousands of Uber drivers in the state.

The Uber drivers, many of them former cab drivers, spoke about earning more money now and having more personal autonomy.

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"If they decide to stop Uber from operating in Connecticut, then the government should step up and give me a job. I've done everything right," said Emmanuel Bakwowi, a former taxi driver from New Haven who switched six months ago to Uber.

Bakwowi, an immigrant from Cameroon, said he earns about $1,000 a week driving his own car with Uber, which allows riders to use smartphone apps to book and pay for rides. When he worked for the cab company, he said, he struggled to pay $850 a week to rent a taxi while also paying for gas, insurance and car repairs.

California, Colorado, Virginia, Washington, D.C., New York, Massachusetts and Oregon have begun regulating aspects of ride-hailing services, separate and apart from taxi and livery service regulations, according to a new state report released Monday. Other states have issued cease and desist orders, saying the companies are operating outside current regulations.

The study of ride-hailing and ride-booking services for the Department of Transportation was conducted by the Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy at Central Connecticut State University. The report offered the state seven options, including maintaining the status quo, treating Uber and similar companies as taxi companies or creating a separate or hybrid system with different regulations for ride-booking services.

However, Transportation Commissioner James Redeker said he does not believe there's enough available data to support a solid plan for how to regulate ride-hailing services or make changes to the current taxi and livery regulations, which date to the 1920s.

"I think the debate is still open," he said.

As more data are collected, he said, the state could consider special license plates or special driver's licenses for those participating in ride-hailing services, enabling the state to get a better handle on who is driving the vehicles.

Rep. Antonio Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, co-chairman of the Transportation Committee, said lawmakers this session will likely examine issues such as liability insurance, inspections and background checks for Uber drivers and those from other online companies. Many lawmakers voiced concern about the safety of people who use Uber and other services.

Also, Guerrera said, such changes could help level the playing field between the taxi industry and the ride-hailing services.

"If we do that," he said, "then the consumer should have the option of deciding where he wants or she wants to go."