Jacksonville, Fla., is making headlines over plans to enact stiff penalties against ride-sharing drivers. Some transportation network company drivers in Jacksonville have recently gotten into trouble for not carrying the necessary permits or other official authorization to provide paid transportation.  Several have been fined, but because the TNCs have covered those fines for their drivers, the Jacksonville City Council is considering more punitive measures, including impounding offenders’ vehicles.

In 2013, the council began to address TNCs like Uber and Lyft by allowing them essentially to serve as dispatchers for existing limousine and “black car” companies.  The ordinance also rightfully repealed the arcane requirement many cities still have that driver-for-hire companies charge a minimum fare.

Per the City of Jacksonville’s Digital Dispatch Services website, current rules require that a driver wishing to use and work with a TNC, he or she must work for a “registered vehicle-for-hire company.” A TNC is explicitly excluded from being considered such a company.  Therefore, if an individual wants to serve as a TNC driver, he or she would have to either be hired by a registered company (i.e., a limousine service) or would have to incorporate one and be self-employed by it.  Per the application, registering a new company involves incorporating it, insuring it, obtaining an occupational license, and ultimately applying for a permit, which involves a background check and vehicle inspection.

Needless to say, individuals looking to earn extra money by working as a TNC driver a few hours a week may be discouraged to do so due to the hassle and expense involved in incorporating a new company and everything else that goes into it, especially since Uber and Lyft already fulfill that role. In other places, they may only have to undergo a background check, a simple vehicle inspection and/or obtain the proper commercial insurance to comply with the law.

The City of Jacksonville appears to be in its legal right to penalize individuals who are not permitted to drive-for-hire per local laws, and they are certainly within their rights to enact tougher penalties for repeat offenders.  However, instead of enacting tougher penalties, lawmakers should consider establishing a permitting framework that allows TNC drivers to enter the marketplace with commonsense regulations that level the playing field, promote competition and, most importantly, preserve public safety.

R Street experts have written extensively about the emerging regulatory and marketplace issues affecting ride-sharing services provided by transportation network companies such as Uber and Lyft. Several states and local municipalities have taken different approaches, ranging from explicitly allowing them to operate in their cities to enacting outright punitive and protectionist measures that outlaw them, to the competitive advantage of traditional taxicabs and limousine services.  An upcoming R Street report by will analyze how  several local governments have responded to this emerging transportation business model, and assign grades to each locality based on several factors affecting competitiveness.

Jacksonville’s existing permitting system for drivers working for “registered vehicle-for-hire” companies that utilize TNCs is a starting point. However, as the forthcoming R Street paper finds, they should consider lifting the requirement that individuals incorporate their own companies and instead allow TNCs who meet certain reasonable criteria, such as Uber and Lyft, to fulfill that role.

Ultimately, it is not unreasonable to require participating TNCs to carry sufficient insurance; drivers to undergo background checks; vehicles to pass safety inspections; and sensible permitting fees to offset their costs.  However, the current requirement that an individual be hired by an existing company or incorporate his or her own to merely work as a part-time TNC driver is an unnecessary imposition that has much more to do with shutting down an emerging business model than it has to do with public safety.

If TNCs can safely and successfully operate in harmony with their traditional taxi and limousine competitors in big-government, regulation-heavy cities such as Chicago, Washington and San Francisco, lawmakers should be able to find a fair, commonsense  solution in Jacksonville, Fla.

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