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Politics & Government

Wisconsin Assembly Set to Vote on Rules for Uber & Other Ride Share Companies

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It used to be that if you needed a ride, and public transit was not an option, you called a cab. These days, there are a lot more players in the game—companies like Lyft and Uber.

On Tuesday, the Assembly will vote on proposed statewide regulations for transportation network companies. The rules would supersede local rules, perhaps enabling the industry to expand into more Wisconsin communities.

We met Peter Burgelis last year when Lyft started to become more popular in Milwaukee. He would drive when he wanted to earn extra money. Ride share companies such as Lyft and Uber link people who need rides with people who provide them, for a fee.

“It’s the new sharing economy, it’s sharing resources that are otherwise idle, and maximizing opportunity cost, it’s not going to go away any time soon,” Burgelis says.

"All requests for rides occur through an electronic or digital platform," says Adam Dries. He is general manager of Uber in Wisconsin. He says cell phone apps allow passengers and drivers to connect.

“People receive a great deal of information that they don’t otherwise receive from cab. So when you take off from the side of the street you don’t know what the price is. So there’s pricing information that’s available,” Dries says.

Right now, Uber operates in Madison, Green Bay and Milwaukee. Each city came up with its own laws to regulate the companies. For example, Milwaukee approved an ordinance last July requiring Uber and Lyft drivers to meet the same licensing standards as cab operators. Now, state legislation is percolating.

GOP Representative Tyler August says Wisconsin needs uniform rules.  

“Right now there’s kind of a patchwork of ordinances being discussed across the state. For example, if you were to pick of a passenger here in the city of Madison, drop them off in Middleton or Monona, they may have different sets of rules to where you wouldn’t be able to then pick up a return passenger,” August says. 

The bill would create a new license for transportation network companies, or TNC’s. In order to operate in Wisconsin, they’d have to pay a $5,000 fee, conduct background checks on drivers and maintain at least $1 million in liability insurance.  Adam Dries, general manager of Uber, says it supports the legislation.

“This bill would create thousands of jobs across the state,” Dries says.

Dries won’t disclose how many drivers Uber has in Wisconsin, but he says statewide regulations would open up more markets. Some traditional carriers object.

“It’s been difficult to compete because they’re offering the same service, a taxicab service, at a much lower cost structure,” Fogarty says.

Mike Fogarty is president of the Taxicab, Limousine, Paratransit Association. He says often times state rules would solidify the uneven playing field.

“Licensed operators have primary commercial insurance 24/7 and the TNC’s have a hybrid policy, which is much less expensive. The taxicab companies have expensive licensing fees and taxes that they pay to various entities that regulate them. The TNC’s don’t have these fees,” Fogarty says.

City leaders from both Milwaukee and Madison have also spoken out against the statewide legislation. Madison officials insist local communities should regulate ride sharing companies; Milwaukee representatives say the industry wrote the bill and it does not go far enough. It appears the bill has bipartisan support in both the Assembly and the Senate. So far, more than a half-dozen states have regulated the fledgling industry. 

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