Michael Breckman has driven taxis through the streets of St. Paul for more than 30 years.
He wants to keep at it for another 10 but worries that ride-hailing companies, like Lyft and Uber, could hamper that goal.
“I don’t have anything against Uber, it’s just that the city of St. Paul is regulating us different,” Breckman said.
But on Wednesday the City Council started to align the rules governing the different types of transportation companies, in what city leaders said is an ongoing effort to level the playing field for taxis.
St. Paul is not alone in the effort. Last week the Metropolitan Airports Commission held a hearing on changes at the airport also aimed at increasing equity between the two types of transportation companies.
The St. Paul City Council voted to allow licensed cab companies to train their drivers, instead of making them attend a course at Hennepin Technical College, and decided to stop requiring cabdrivers to get physical exams.
Taxis in St. Paul will be able to use digital meters to calculate fares and keep a digital log of trips. The city also pushed back its maximum vehicle age for cabs — the car can now be up to 10 years old, rather than five.
But Cathie Wendell, co-owner of City Wide Cab Co., said she would like to see higher standards for the ride-hailing companies, rather than lower standards for taxis.
She was particularly concerned with the city’s decision to no longer require drivers to get a medical exam and Department of Transportation medical card.
“Anybody that transports people should be safe to drive the car, should be healthy enough to drive the car safely,” Wendell said.
The examination is not required by state law and doing away with it streamlines the regulatory process, said Ricardo Cervantes, director of the city’s Department of Safety and Inspections.
There are 217 licensed cabs in the city, and chasing after individual cabdrivers who are not complying with the city’s rules is difficult, Dan Niziolek, deputy director of the city’s Department of Safety and Inspections, recently told the City Council.
He said that is one of the reasons the city is creating a taxicab service company license, which the council approved Wednesday.
Previously, individual cabdrivers were required to have a license but companies were not.
Cab companies now must also pay $400 and meet certain requirements to obtain a license. Ride-hailing companies also have to obtain a company license.
Many cities, including Minneapolis, require a company license, Cervantes said. The license will allow the city to hold entire companies accountable instead of penalizing individual drivers.
St. Paul decided not to make several other changes requested by cab companies, including increasing the minimum fare and requiring drug testing.
The city also voted against allowing cab companies to do their own mechanical inspections. They must continue to go in for an annual city inspection, which is not required of companies like Uber. That could change if members of the taxi industry show they can maintain their vehicles, Cervantes said.
The standards are different for the two types of companies, Council Member Rebecca Noecker said, because users of ride-hailing companies can review driver ratings online and look over terms and conditions before using the services. But a rider might just hail a cab on the street.
“In the former case it’s a little more buyer beware, and in the second case you are really relying on the city to ensure whichever cab happens to come by to pick you up is in good shape and is going to do a good job,” Noecker said.