EL PASO - The El Paso City Council approved an ordinance the creates regulations and fees on taxis and ride-sharing companies like Uber.
The city is calling companies, like Uber, transportation network companies or TNCs. They provide prearranged transportation services for compensation using an internet-enabled application or digital platform to connect passengers with drivers who use their personal vehicles to provide vehicle-for-hire services.
Amendments to the Transportation for Hire Ordinance, which the council approved unanimously Tuesday, requires all businesses have an operating authority permit and drivers pass a background check. It will also do away with 26 fees and cut costs up to 95 percent.
A taxi company with 60 vehicles, for example, currently pays about $17,000 in fees. The proposed fees would be $175, or 98 percent less. A limousine service with 20 vehicles currently pays $3,720 in fees -- the new cost is $175.
Uber had threatened to cease operations in El Paso if representatives required Uber and traditional cab companies to operate under the same rules. Cab drivers worry Uber will put them out of business and argued for more regulation of the ride-sharing company.
Under the new ordinance, fingerprints will no longer be required of drivers. That's something Joe Olivar, the owner of Border Cab Taxi, has argued could put passengers at risk.
"We've done it here for our people for the last 40 years. All of a sudden, the viewpoint is it's not necessary. Well, why is it not necessary? ... The city just caved in, plain and simple," Olivar told ABC-7 last month.
Other loosened regulations include no longer requiring drivers to have a medical certification and outdated two-way radios. City vehicle inspections and driver and vehicle permits will still be required. The age limit on vehicles has also been removed.
The transporation-for-hire ordinance amendments are inclusive of taxicabs, limousines, pedicabs, sightseeing and charger vehicles, low speed vehicles and transportation network companies.
The newly passed ordinance also requires companies to provide wheelchair-accessible vehicles upon request.
Taxi, shuttles and limos will continue to pick up passengers from the airport. But there will also be a designated space with signs along the center median for ride-sharing companies like Uber. The drivers, however, will not be allowed to wait curbside. The airport will have staging for five transportation network company vehicles in marked spaces at the cellphone lot.
Uber contends it's not a taxi service -- rather an app that puts passengers in touch with drivers. At least one local taxi company is now developing an app of its own.