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Taxicab drivers ask Myrtle Beach for help competing with Uber

Taxicab drivers say their revenue has plummeted since the S.C. Legislature pass a state law allowing ride-sharing services to operate.
Taxicab drivers say their revenue has plummeted since the S.C. Legislature pass a state law allowing ride-sharing services to operate. jblackmon@thesunnews.com

Taxicab drivers asked city officials on Wednesday to ease regulations on their operations as a way to increase revenue to what they say is their struggling business in the months after the S.C. Legislature voted to approve ride-sharing in the state.

About 20 taxicab owners and an attorney representing many who operate cabs in Myrtle Beach asked the city to allow them to place advertising on their vehicles, along with a list of other requests during a meeting scheduled to let the industry air its grievances.

UberX is a phone application-based car ride service that began operating in South Carolina in July 2014. The S.C. Legislature earlier this summer passed laws that regulates various aspects of “transportation network companies” similar to Uber, such as insurance coverage.

Taxi drivers said their profits are down between 40 and 50 percent since Uber has been allowed to operate and want the city to ease some regulations – such as allowing advertisements on their cabs – to help offset their losses. An Uber representative declined to comment for this story about how its business has been.

“My hands are tied,” said Brian Babbitt with Absolute Taxi and Limo of the city’s regulations that don’t allow them to advertise on their vehicles. “You’re holding us back from [making money]. Let us bring you guys the artwork. Make sure it’s beach friendly, family friendly, not offending anybody. I could sell $20,000 worth of advertisement tomorrow. Then I don’t care if there’s 300 Ubers, my bills are paid.”

I’d find out who Uber’s lawyer was and I’d find out who their lobbyist was, and I’d hire them.”

Myrtle Beach attorney Tom Ellenburg

City attorney Tom Ellenburg told the drivers that some of their requests, such as limiting the number of Uber drivers allowed to operate within city limits, were outside of the city’s authority. Allowing advertising on taxis, however, was something the city could legally allow.

“City Council has to make policy decisions,” Ellenburg said. “In the past, they have indicated a reluctance to allow mobile advertising. While it can be done, it can’t be done with a vetting process.”

Jim Irvin, an attorney representing several taxi drivers, said reducing the inspection rate for taxis from $300 to $50, reducing the number of annual inspections from three to one and allowing taxi drivers to alter their rates were among other changes he said could help drivers financially.

Assistant City Manager Ron Andrews said city staff would review all of the suggestions, form recommendations and present it to City Council in the next few weeks.

“We’re going to determine what the city can do through regulations that might be helpful to your well being,” he said. “We’re not going to make any promises today. We’re going to listen.”

I’m losing drivers because they’re not making money and they’re becoming Uber drivers, and I can hardly find new drivers because they can’t [pass the background check]. In the next two years, there will be no more cabs.”

Robbie Singh with Diamond Cab

Ellenburg urged the drivers to contact state officials as municipalities are not able to regulate Uber under the new state law.

“If you have a complaint, go to the local legislative delegation or to the General Assembly,” he said. “I’d find out who Uber’s lawyer was and I’d find out who their lobbyist was, and I’d hire them.”

Robbie Singh with Diamond Cab said he hopes the city is able to make changes soon, saying the number of calls for rides from his 40 taxis have dropped from 500 on Friday and Saturday nights last summer to 300 on weekends this year.

“I’m losing drivers because they’re not making money and they’re becoming Uber drivers, and I can hardly find new drivers because they can’t [pass the background check],” he said. “In the next two years, there will be no more cabs.”

Maya T. Prabhu: 843-444-1722, @TSN_mprabhu

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