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Competing Visions For Uber In MI Play Out In Senate

August 30, 2016

The sponsor of a House bill setting up specific statewide standards for companies like Uber and Lyft says he’d like the package to move as soon as next month.

However, Rep. Tim Kelly’s (R-Saginaw) plan that sets up regulations for transportation network companies (TNCs) would have to clear the same Senate committee that has already approved legislation that moves in a different direction with TNCs.

Some observers said at this point, it’s not looking good – unless a compromise can bridge the two different approaches to regulating the use of ridesharing apps.

That effort is apparently being spearheaded by Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive), who’d like to reach a consensus on the matter, according to sources.

Meekhof spokesperson Amber McCann said Thursday that Meekhof is working with Senate Regulatory Reform Committee Chair Tory Rocca (R-Sterling Heights) to “move the legislation forward,” adding that there’s no specific timeline for a vote.

Kelly’s HB 4637, part of a three-bill package, is sitting before Rocca’s committee after it passed the House.

That committee already approved a set of bills that regulate TNCs, but do so under the existing law that also governs taxis and limousines, which is backed by Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge), one of the committee’s members.

Uber and Lyft are not supportive of those Senate bills. They do, however, support Kelly’s bill, which sets up separate statewide regulations for TNCs and exempts them from the existing Limousine Transportation Act.

Kelly said today it’s his understanding that most of the committee is “pretty good with it.”

“The reality is, as I’ve said all along, hey, if you don’t do anything, Uber is still operating,” he said.

However, a source said the votes aren’t there to move it from committee. Rocca and a few Republicans on the committee did not return calls asking for their positions. Sen. Mike Kowall (R-White Lake) said today he hadn’t taken a look at the Kelly bill, but did vote no when Jones’ package was before the committee.

Asked if the votes are there for Kelly’s bill, Sen. Curtis Hertel (D-East Lansing), who serves on the committee, asked, “Considering that we passed bills that pretty much did the opposite?”

Other opponents of Kelly’s package include airports and taxi companies, the Michigan Townships Association, the Michigan Municipal League and a few cities that Uber had struck local deals with.

Hertel said he didn’t support the Kelly package because Uber negotiated a deal with his local municipality and then went to the Legislature to support legislation that would essentially undo it. Kelly’s regulations would supersede any local agreements, according to the House Fiscal Agency analysis of the bill.

However, it’s not clear if the full Senate is prepared to move the more taxi-friendly TNC regulation version.

Jones emphasized the safety aspect of treating and regulating Uber and its drivers like taxi drivers. He referenced the mass shooting in Kalamazoo earlier this year, where the suspect was an Uber driver (See “How Does K-Zoo Shooting Impact Uber Discussions?” 2/22/16).

“So in this day and age of ISIS and terrorism, I think it’s extremely important that their drivers be treated just like any other driver of transportation,” Jones said.

Kelly said he believes Jones’ bill would “kill Uber.”

However, Jones and Hertel both mentioned the prospect of getting to a compromise between the different schools of thought on accommodating these TNCs and the ridesharing industry.

“I think that we have to put both packages together and work together,” Jones said. “There’s no reason we can’t resolve this.”

Meanwhile, the administration’s position hasn’t changed much, said Jeff Cranson, spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT).

“MDOT believes there needs to be a level playing field,” Cranson said. “Conversations are ongoing.”

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