In the wake of the state announcing that ride-hailing services Uber and Lyft can now pick up customers at Kahului and Kapalua airports, Maui airport taxi drivers are expressing frustration that such companies will essentially be operating as taxis while not having to meet the same legal constraints.
The frustration of the taxi drivers is understandable, but the best way to create a level playing field between taxis and ride-sharing companies is for Maui County to deregulate the taxis, not impose heavy regulations on the ride-hailing companies.
One local cab driver astutely told The Maui News that taxis and companies such as Uber and Lyft really are in the same business, along with buses and shuttles.
“A bus is a ride-share; a shuttle is a ride-share; strangers share cabs,” said Nick Crowley of Maui Island Taxi.
He went on to ask, “Why does Lyft and Uber get to be called ride-sharing companies, and they have different rules from the rest of us?”
That’s the right question to be asking, but unfortunately some lawmakers are coming up with the wrong answer: heavy regulation for the ride-hailing companies.
But why go in that direction? Maui would benefit more if policymakers would delete many of the provisions found in Chapter 5.16 of the Maui County Code of Ordinances that greatly limit the ability of taxicab drivers to compete in an open market. None of these provisions apply to the ride-hailing companies.
For example, taxi drivers are required to obtain a chauffeur’s license and a permit from the Maui County director of finance. Their vehicles have to be registered and inspected by the Measurement Standards Branch of the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, and drivers have to pay for each taximeter inspection.
The chapter imposes price-fixing, mandating how much taxi drivers can charge. They are required to charge an initial $3.50 for one-tenth of a mile or less, or one minute of waiting time or less. Then, drivers have to charge 30 cents for each additional one-tenth mile and one minute of waiting time. It even requires drivers to charge 30 cents for each piece of luggage they handle per trip.
Maui taxi drivers also have to pay for their taxicab driver’s permit and the initial issuance of a taxicab business permit, as well as renewals for both.
These provisions are unnecessary burdens to hardworking Maui County taxi drivers. Repealing them would truly level the competitive playing field, but in a way that is fair and healthier for all transportation companies on Maui — and their customers, who would benefit from better prices and improved service.
Maui lawmakers should unshackle their county’s taxi companies and allow freedom of choice in transportation. That’s the best way to ensure that consumers — not lobbyists or bureaucrats — determine which services are best for them.
This article was originally published on Feb. 8 in The Maui News.