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City Taxi Commissioner: Abolish Taxi Commission, Regulations to Level Playing Field for Uber, Taxis

In an effort to solve a regulatory dispute between taxi and Uber drivers, the Portsmouth, NH Taxi Commission voted unanimously on Wednesday to deliver a memo to the local City Council recommending that the Taxi Commission's entire regulatory system be eliminated and replaced with a simpler registration process with criminal background checks. Taxi Commissioner Larry Cataldo also suggested that the Taxi Commission itself should be abolished following the changes.

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In cities across the United States, rideshare services have exploded to prominence, offering cheap rides to those in need of transportation and decent paying jobs to individuals struggling to find work. However, the business models behind providers like Uber and Lyft frequently come into conflict with antiquated livery regulations, resulting in political fights between taxi drivers and rideshare companies, with taxi drivers complaining that rideshare services are sidestepping the fees and regulatory costs that they have to pay. The political infighting has resulted in extreme outcomes in some cases, such as cities threatening to arrest or fine rideshare drivers if providers do not reshape their business models to fit regulations designed before mobile app based businesses could have even been imagined.

According to Seacoast Online, the Portsmouth, NH Taxi Commission decided at a Wednesday meeting to approach this problem in a new way by ditching its existing livery regulatory scheme entirely and replacing it with a new one aimed at evening the playing field between taxi drivers and rideshare providers. In fact, not only did the Taxi Commission vote to send a memo recommending that the City Council abandon its taxi medallion system, inspections, and fare regulations, but the commissioner offering the proposal, Larry Cataldo, recommended that the Taxi Commission itself be disbanded entirely six months after the changes go into effect.

Instead, the commission suggested that the City Council adopt a new, simpler regulatory system to accommodate the disparate business models of taxi and rideshare companies. The new rules would require all drivers to register with the city and provide proof that they are carrying at least $300,000 worth of commercial insurance coverage. Registered drivers would also have to sign a code of conduct agreement and face criminal background checks, for which they would be charged a fee. Uber drivers would be offered a grace period, during which time they could continue working, to give them an opportunity to acclimate to the new regulations. The above-embedded video contains footage, provided by the City of Portsmouth, of a prior January 14 meeting of the Taxi Commission at which commissioners listened to debates between taxi and Uber drivers before coming up with Wednesday’s proposal.

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Some local taxi drivers are angry about the proposed changes and are calling for Uber to be banned. Portsmouth taxi operator Merle White said in protest at Wednesday’s Taxi Commission meeting, “Maybe it’ll take a lawsuit to make you do your job and maybe I’ll be the moron to do it.” Other taxi drivers at the meeting also protested — John Palreiro offered to sign on to Merle White’s lawsuit, and Scott Gerrato called for Taxi Commissioner Larry Cataldo to resign. Seacoast Online reported today that taxi driver John Palreiro has made good on his promise by retaining attorney Joe Plaia and plans to file suit against the city if it does not serve a cease-and-desist order to Uber drivers.

Taxi Commissioner Larry Cataldo said that Uber is needed in town because it encourages its drivers to make themselves available during peak hours when taxis can not handle the existing demand for rides. Cataldo also pointed out the fact that rideshare services support the public’s interest by helping inebriated bar patrons arrive home safely. Commissioners at the meeting said that deregulating taxi fares would give consumers more choices. Cataldo hopes that the new regulatory system will be up and running by summertime.

The proposal was tabled until the City Council’s next meeting, at which the regulatory changes are expected to face a vote. If the proposal were to pass, City Attorney Robert Sullivan would be tasked with rewriting the city’s taxi rules accordingly, which would be presented at a subsequent public hearing.

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