Fleet Street

App-etizing transportation? Uber eyes Houston with petition for changes to taxi laws

Uber eyes Houston with petition for changes to taxi laws

car driver tipping his hat from front seat chauffeur
Houstonians finally may get their Uber, the popular smartphone app that locates and hires luxury car providers. Benzinga.com
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The company is not without controversy, as cab companies across the nation attempt to label Uber an illegal limo service. Uber.com
car driver tipping his hat from front seat chauffeur
Uber logo
Uber application on phones

After three years of gaining traction in some of the largest markets in the world, popular car-hire app Uber finally has its sights set on Houston. But first, it has to fight City Hall.

The San Francisco-based tech company that offers a means to locate, hire and pay for a lift in a luxury car or limousine has taken to change.org in recent weeks to petition Houston city council members to reconsider laws the Uber feels are meant to protect the city's taxi industry.

"Right now, there's a $70 minimum fare for any type of limo service in Houston," Uber spokesperson Nairi Hourdajian tells CultureMap. "A regulation like that just doesn't work if you want to go from the Heights to downtown."

In addition to the steep minimum charge, another law requires all area car-hire companies to maintain a fleet of at least three vehicles.

"One of the hallmarks of Uber is that it helps to support small businesses by putting drivers directly in touch with passengers. It's about consumer choice and finding efficient ways to increase sales, especially for smaller providers," Hourdajian says.

While it runs a variety of platforms (including UberTaxi and the eco-friendly UberX), the company will enter the Houston market solely with its UberBlack luxury service. Hourdajian says talks are ongoing with city officials and was unable to project a future launch date.

No easy sell 

Mainstay local taxi companies like Yellow Cab, which has its own Hail a Cab app, don't exactly see it that way.

"We're very heavily regulated," Roman Martinez, CEO of Yellow Cab-owner Greater Houston Transportation Company, tells Fox 26 News. "We just want to make sure everyone is on a level playing field."

Since Uber is a technology company as opposed to a traditional car-for-hire firm, area cabbies fear that the simple app will be able to circumvent city transportation laws, according to Martinez.

This would not be the first time Uber faced pushback from more established competitors.

Taxi commissions in California, Massachusetts and the District of Columbia have attempted to shutter the company's operation on the grounds it was operating an unsanctioned limo service. New York City famously banned UberTaxi in fall 2012, allowing only UberBlack to remain operable. The NYC taxi app was permitted to resume in late April.

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