Council approves for-hire driver policy |

Council approves for-hire driver policy

Jeff Dempsey, The Park Record

The Park City Council voted unanimously Thursday to approve changes to the city’s for-hire driver policy and appeared unanimously ill at ease doing it.

The displeasure came as the result of comments from several Park City taxi company operators who attended the meeting to speak, to offer suggestions and to vent their frustrations with a system they view as unfair.

Rob O’Brien, owner of 649-TAXI, said he has been in business in Park City for 24 years and is worried about the changes being made to accommodate businesses like Uber and Lyft.

"It feels to me like we’ve really lowered the bar a couple of times to do this," he said. " I’m not trying to say they shouldn’t be here, that they don’t have a right to be here. It just doesn’t seem right that we keep on lowering the bar so they can come into town like this."

The changes before the Park City Council Thursday brought the city’s standards for licensing and regulating for-hire drivers in line with the state of Utah. Legislation earlier this year adopted new standards and included a pre-emption clause, meaning Park City has to adopt those standards or the city cannot regulate for-hire drivers at all.

Loose regulations, O’Brien said, mean opportunistic drivers coming into Park City. There were about 785 taxis registered in Park City, he said.

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"You’re wondering why during Sundance, Main Street can get so full and it’s just all taxis? Well, when you have 800 cars that are legally there, add the ones that are illegal or decide not to get a license here, you’re talking probably close to 1,000."

Michael Falk, who owns Karaoke Cab, said he is a 20-year resident of Park City. He said he finds himself asking why he bothers having a business license in Park City.

"It should be a level playing field. If an Uber or Lyft or Johnny or Sue or whoever wants to operate in Salt Lake or Park City, if I have to have a business license in those places, so should they," he said. "It is very frustrating."

Falk suggested city staff should meet with him and other taxi operators to talk about what can be done to even the playing field.

"Those of us who live here and have our businesses here, we feel we are a strong part of the community," he said. "We’re out in the streets every day. Oftentimes we are the first to greet new people to Park City. They ask us where to go to eat, where there are things to do. We’re a big advocate for this city because we love it. [This is] a slap in our face."

Falk said he has no problem with competition from companies like Uber and Lyft, as long as it is a fair fight.

"Bottom line, there’s no such thing as ‘ride share,’" he said. "They’re cabs. Whether it’s Uber or Lyft, they’re cabs."

Sam Rubin, who identified himself as an Uber driver and an operator of a traditional transportation business, said Park City should do what it can to hold outside drivers to the same standard as Park City-based companies.

"You go from 750 properly licensed to another 150 showing up a week before Sundance, paying an $84 fee, and basically being able to operate up here when they have no clue where anything is or how to get around town," he said.

Councilman Andy Beerman expressed sympathy with the speakers but wondered aloud what could be done.

"I just don’t see a good way to make this better right now," he said. "I would challenge all of you to come to us with ideas. This isn’t our preferred approach. It’s been somewhat forced on us by changes to the state law."

Falk reiterated he and other taxi operators would be happy to sit down with city leadership to offer suggestions. Councilwoman Liza Simpson said although her term is up in January she hopes staff will take him up on that idea.

"I don’t know whether that means we need to put off passing the current ordinance," she said. "If I read it all correctly, we’re coming in line with what Sam asked us to do, it’s just there are other things [the taxi owners] would like us to address."

Councilman Tim Henney suggested a continuance to allow staff to talk with local taxi operators before council made any decisions.

"I think there is an opportunity to bring in a stakeholder group that could inform this process. Maybe not. But it seems like we have a willing group that would like to participate," he said. "It would make sense to have a group meeting and see if it does inform a different decision."

Beerman said with Sundance so close, the best thing to do would be to approve the changes as written and continue to look for ways to improve.

"At this point I don’t see how any of these [changes] have a negative impact to our local companies at the moment," he said. "I’m comfortable going forward today, with the caveat that we convene this working group right away and see if a few of these layers might be added. It’s probably a bit too late for this winter, but for future seasons."

Mayor Jack Thomas agreed.

"I think we need to move forward given where we are positioned with Sundance, but I would say we should encourage the notion of coming back with some kind of group," he said.

After the council voted unanimously in favor of the changes, Thomas stressed the point again.

"The motion carries, but with the suggestion that we come back with a working group and see if we can continue to discuss this with your involvement. And thank you for your input tonight."