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Oxford Taxi Owners Seek Help to Compete with Uber

Flying Tuk
The city has regulatory control over taxi services and pedicab companies like Flying Tuk, but not Uber.

A local taxi owner told the Mayor and Board of Aldermen Tuesday night that Uber drivers have become a major concern for Oxford taxi companies.

Alfonzo Jordan, owner of Zoe’s Taxi, said he knows of four taxi companies that have closed in just the past year.
“Uber drivers here in Oxford have been operating as private taxi companies,” Jordan said. “They have been giving out personal business cards, they have been taking private calls, and it’s hurting all the taxi companies. They’re not following the guidelines.”
Jordan asked the board to consider reducing the city’s liability insurance requirements to give local taxi drivers a better chance to compete with Uber.
According to the City Code of Ordinances, vehicles for hire are required to have coverage in the amount of $100,000 for death or injury, $300,000 for total public liability and $100,000 for property damage.
Jordan said he and other taxi drivers felt $75,000 for death or injury, $150,000 for total public liability, and $75,000 for property damage, or $100,000 across the board, would be more affordable for taxi drivers yet sufficient in the case of an accident.
City Attorney Pope Mallette said deciding the insurance requirements for taxi operators was an extensive process, but the board would consider looking over it again.
“Those numbers weren’t so wrong when y’all weren’t competing with Uber,” Mallette said.
But the city board has no authority to regulate Uber’s operations, he added.
“The problem you see, we can’t fix,” Mallette said. “This is created by the [state] legislature preempting [Uber drivers] from vehicles-for-hire requirements.”
In April 2016, Gov. Phil Bryant signed HB1381 into law, allowing companies such as Uber to be regulated by the Mississippi Insurance Department, exempting them from local city ordinances.
Mayor Robyn Tannehill assured Jordan that she and the board are making state legislators aware of the problem Oxford taxi businesses face with companies such as Uber.
“It is a battle we’re going to continue to fight,” Tannehill said. “Our responsibility as city leaders is to figure out the most efficient and effective way to get people home safely. We all agree that the ordinance that we have in place does that. Now it pulls the legs out from under [the ordinance] when Uber gets a free a pass.”
Tannehill added that city leaders want to help local taxi drivers be able to compete, but they still have to ensure taxi operators are providing the best protection for both themselves and their customers.
“We still have this responsibility, that apparently our state leaders don’t feel, of protecting our public and making sure the people operating these taxis are legitimate operators,” Tannehill said. “But I do think that your request is a fair one.”
Jordan shared discussions he’s had with other taxi owners and Uber drivers. In years past, it seemed keeping his taxi company would yield a higher income than working with Uber. Now he’s not so sure, as he said more so-called Uber drivers work privately without operating legally by logging into the Uber app. Also, Uber drivers are not required to have any sort of decal, making it easier for someone to claim they work with Uber. 
“They’ve been doing this, and there is no way for us [taxi owners] to keep up,” Jordan said. “I honestly thought about it because if I did [Uber], I could still keep my clientele, I could still operate. It’s just not fair. It is not fair that they’re doing that.”
“It’s not,” Tannehill agreed. “I wish that we had control over [Uber], and unfortunately, our state legislature has given them an unfair advantage. And it’s frustrating to us.”
The board told Jordan they would look over the insurance requirements again and get back to him later with a response to his request.
“We want to support small businesses,” Tannehill said. “We want to support people that are doing it right, and I appreciate that you are one of those people.”

By Randall Haley, associate editor of HottyToddy.com. She can be reached at randall.haley@hottytoddy.com.

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