Transportation

Louisiana Bill to Expand Ride-Shares to Rural Areas Moves Ahead

Under House Bill 749, services like Uber and Lyft could operate in the state’s more rural areas, where they currently face limitations due to arcane rules.

by Will Sentell, The Advocate / April 11, 2018
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(TNS) — A second push to craft uniform rules for Uber and Lyft, and expand the ride-sharing service to rural areas, cleared the House Transportation Committee on Tuesday.

The measure, House 749, won panel approval without objection and next faces action on the House floor.

Last year a similar bill won House approval but died in a Senate committee.

This time changes were made to address concerns that helped kill the bill in 2017.

Also, the legislation is sponsored by House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, which could boost chances for final approval.

Backers of the bill said it is needed because current rules vary among cities and parishes, causing confusion for riders.

In addition, riders sometimes find that Uber or Lyft will carry them from cities to rural areas but not pick them up for a return trip because of arcane rules.

Barras said numerous states have similar laws.

"I think we are way behind the curve on this service for our constituents, including what this could mean for our tourism industry," he said.

Rep. Malinda White, D-Bogalusa, said one of her daughters once used a ride-sharing service to go from Baton Rouge to White Castle, then could not return to Baton Rouge using the same service.

"Living in a rural area, there is a dire need for transportation," White said. "And it is a big help to reduce DWI's."

Last year opponents said a similar bill would nullify existing fee agreements between New Orleans, Baton Rouge and other cities with Uber and Lyft.

Barras said an amendment added to his proposal on Tuesday would grandfather in the fees if they were in place on March 1.

Local governments would be able to charge fees of up to 1 percent of each gross trip fare.

Critics said the legislation needs more safeguards to protect consumers, including a requirement that drivers undergo detailed background checks.

Glenn McGovern, a Metairie attorney, said he periodically gets telephone calls from women who said they were groped or sexually attacked by Uber drivers.

McGovern said drivers need to undergo fingerprint checks.

Nick Juliano, southeast public affairs manager for Uber, told the committee Uber's nationally accredited background checks on drivers are more comprehensive than fingerprint reviews.

Juliano said, in 2015, 51 percent of fingerprint-based data did not spell out how cases were resolved.

He said Uber runners "go to the source of records. It costs us more."

Jonathan Buckner, public policy manager for Lyft, said his firm partners with the National Sheriffs' Association in scrutinizing drivers.

Under the bill, applicants to be drivers would have to undergo local and national criminal background reviews.

Those who have gotten more than three moving violations in a three-year period would be ineligible.

Michael Sigur, vice-president of the Kenner City Council, said despite Barras' assurances he is concerned that Kenner's hard-won ridesharing rules would not be allowed to continue if the bill becomes law.

"What I am seeing here is not a blanket acceptance of what we have on our laws right now," Sigur said. "That does concern me and my city."

©2018 The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.