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Update: Full Common Council to Vote on Regulating "Rideshare" Drivers

Ann-Elise Henzl

The Milwaukee Public Works Committee approved an ordinance Wednesday, which would make drivers for Lyft and Uber follow the same licensing rules as taxis.

The rideshare companies have been making inroads in Wisconsin over the past few months.

The Milwaukee Common Council will vote on the proposed regulations at the Council’s next meeting on June 24.

Like taxicabs, Lyft and Uber provide rides for customers, but there are differences. For instance, if you want a ride from Lyft, you can't hail one of the mustachioed cars on the street. Rather, you register for the service online, then use a mobile device to locate a driver.

East side resident Jillian Imilkowski wants a ride to a coffee shop, a few miles from home. She opens the Lyft app on her phone. "It takes a minute for it to load, and as soon as everything's up, I'll get to see who is in the area. It looks like there are two drivers nearby," Imilkowski demonstrates.

The app shows a photo of the nearest driver and his car, along with his name. She summons him. "You can start to see him driving towards us - I love it, because you know exactly who the driver is, you know how long it's going to take for him or her to get to us," Imilkowski says.

In a couple minutes, a Ford Fusion with a pink mustache pulls up. The driver is Peter Burgelis, and like the others, he uses his own car. "It's the new sharing economy. It's sharing resources that are otherwise idle," Burlegis says.

His app shows him a photo of the person requesting the ride. It also keeps track of how long the ride taxes, and the charge goes onto the rider's credit card.

This trip to the coffee shop costs six dollars. Burgelis will get 80 percent, the company will get the rest. He says, in a typical week, he makes several hundred dollars, money that supplements his salary as a loan officer. "Not to say that I spend every Friday night in my car, but if I don't have other plans, making a couple extra bucks instead of sitting at home watching TV is a good option for me," Burgelis says.

The monetary benefit could change. City leader are proposing licensing fees and a vehicle inspection program for rideshare services, much as it regulates taxi cab companies.

At a public hearing last week, Alderman Bob Bauman said Uber and Lyft may actually be violating the law by operating in Milwaukee. "We aren't sending out the troops for now, because we want to see if we can deal with this in a rational, calm, professional way and accommodate new ways of doing business, recognizing that there is some value in competition in the market," Bauman testified.

Cab companies don't welcome the competition because the playing field is not level, according to Red Christensen of the Wisconsin Association of Taxicab Owners. He says Lyft and Uber are free of costly regulations. "Many other cities have put cease and desist orders against them, until they could get regulated. That hasn't happened here in Milwaukee," Christensen says.

The cab companies and their drivers are already concerned about more competition from traditional taxies. The city is considering a plan to lift its cap on the number of taxi licenses it issues.

Members of the Common Council are considering both issues at a public hearing Wednesday.

Ann-Elise Henzl became News Director in September 2017.
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