Honolulu mayor returns ride-sharing bill, will become law without signature

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A new law on Oahu that takes effect without Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s signature will crack down on ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft.

The mayor says he supports the intent of the bill, but that it still needs more work.

Uber and Lyft both say they’re willing to keep working with the administration and the Honolulu city council to amend the transportation bill, but after months of debate, coming to an agreement on new regulations could still be months away.

The council had been meeting with ridesharing and taxi companies for months laboring over the details of a bill the council says is meant to keep the public safe, by protecting drivers and passengers alike.

On Wednesday, the bill became law with the absence of the mayor’s signature which means the clock is ticking for the city to find a happy medium.

The new regulations will ultimately take effect January 15.

“And putting out that timeline is going to be very tight and almost I believe impossible to get it done by the deadline without those rules in place by the deadline. If there’s going to be a gap where this bill repeals certain sections of the ordinance that we have not yet finished the new rules, there will be a gap that we fear will put the public at risk,” said Sheri Kajiwara with the city’s Department of Customer Services.

Taxi companies have continued to push for a level playing field for cab operations and companies like Uber and Lyft.

“Bill 36 right now is not is not a finished bill, but it’s a great start to get this thing done in Hawaii. So between now and next year hopefully we can work with the city and get the rolls fine-tuned and everybody can appreciate that go along with it,” said The Cab president Howard Higa.

Among other changes the bill would require drivers to have a Hawaii drivers license and require a seven-year federal background check.

In a statement Uber in part tonight said:

“today’s decision by the mayor…reinforces Uber’s position that Bill 36 still requires additional work…” and “Uber remains committed to reaching a solution that is workable for all.”

Ann Kobayashi, who authored the bill told KHON2 on Wednesday she wasn’t made aware of many of the city’s issues with the bill until the evening it was to be put into effect.

“And now all of a sudden it’s not enough time so I don’t know what it is no matter what we do it’s not enough,” said Kobayashi.

Koybayashi adds that the council will work with the city on amendments to the bill.

The mayor plans to submit a bill with amendments for the council’s consideration at its meeting on October 5.

Read Bill 36, relating to private transportation services and drivers, in its entirety here.


Letter from Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell:

Dear Chair Martin and Councilmembers:

SUBJECT:  Bill 36 (2016), CD2, FD1 – Relating to Private Transportation

Services and Drivers

I am returning Bill 36 (2016), CD2, FD1, without my signature.  I realize that the Council has diligently worked on crafting this bill and I appreciate their effort.

I support the intent of the bill which is to establish regulations for both taxicab companies and transportation network companies (TNC) and to create a fair and level playing field.  If Honolulu is to be a 21st century city, we need to promote and encourage all modes of transportation.  Having said this, we can never jeopardize the safety of the public ridership, and I am troubled by certain aspects of the bill, most notably in the area of public safety.

The effective date of January 15, 2017 does not give the Department of Customer Services adequate time to draft well thought out administrative rules, including receiving valuable input on those rules through the public hearing process as required under Hawaii Revised Statutes, Chapter 91.  It is not possible to complete the rules in this time frame, even if there are no challenges to the proposed rules.  If the rules are not established by the effective date of the bill, the private transportation drivers (which the bill defines as both taxi cabs and TNCs) will not be in compliance with Bill 36.  Additionally, until the rules are established, the portions of the bill regulating private transportation companies and their drivers are, as a practical matter, unenforceable.

The bill also amends ROH Section 12-1.3(a), regarding the director’s authority, and repealed ROH Section 12-1.9 containing the criteria upon which the director may renew, revoke or suspend a taxicab driver certificate.  These changes are self-executing and, as a result, taxicab drivers with expired or expiring taxicab certificates cannot renew their certificates.  Without the administrative rules in place, those taxicab drivers will not have a company certification to legally operate their taxicabs.  Additionally, there will be a gap between the time that ROH Section 12-1.9 is repealed effective as of January 15, 2017, and the date on which the rules regulating private transportation drivers and companies are adopted and the ordinance can thereby be enforced.  During that gap in time, the director will have no authority to suspend or revoke taxicab certificates if a taxicab driver violates any of the listed offenses in either ROH Section 12‑1.9 or Section 12-__.3.  This is a serious concern that impacts the public’s safety and welfare.

Further, on the bill’s effective date, January 15, 2017, all private transportation drivers are required to have passed a national criminal background check going back seven years while taxicab drivers with certificates are allowed under the presently-effective Director’s Administrative Rules for taxicabs to operate under current and less stringent background check requirements going back only two years until their current certificate expires.  This creates an unleveled playing field between certain taxicab drivers and TNC drivers.  I am in support of a seven year national background check for taxicab drivers and TNC drivers for the public safety, but I am also aware that the provisions relating to criminal background checks must be consistent with constitutional principles.

I am requesting that my administration immediately work with the City Council, the taxicab companies and the transportation network companies, on amendments to Bill 36 and the drafting of the administrative rules.  If we collaborate immediately, my plan is to submit a bill with proposed amendments to Bill 36 for the Council’s consideration at its meeting of October 5, 2016.

I support the availability of transportation options for all of our residents and visitors.  Taxicabs provide a well-established and needed transportation service in Honolulu, and transportation network companies provide an alternative service based on new technology.  A level field is one that embraces both models; we can anticipate that technology will generate different and new options for the future and we as a city should accommodate these options for the public’s benefit.

For the reasons stated above, I am returning Bill 36 (2016), CD2, FD1, unsigned.  I look forward to working with the City Council in the coming weeks to amend the law in a manner that meets all objectives.

Sincerely,

Kirk Caldwell

Mayor


Statement from Honolulu City Council Chair Ernest Y. Martin:

“Protecting the consumer is our highest priority and I would like to thank Councilmember Ann Kobayashi for her leadership and fortitude in crafting this bill. I appreciate the Mayor’s concerns. He’s been asking for a level playing field for taxis and transportation network companies since July of 2015. His supporters on the Council conveyed his ideas during months of debate. So where is the administration’s plan and draft ordinance? Time is of the essence, and public statements made after final passage by both the Taxi lobby and TNC supporters suggest that neither side is comfortable with Bill 36. The Council would likely consider any reasonable proposal from the administration.”

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