Cab drivers who have expressed concern over companies such as Uber and Lyft operating in Houston tell Local 2 Investigates they aren't afraid of competition, they just want Uber and Lyft to follow the same rules as taxi drivers.
Customers of the companies use a mobile phone application to order a car which usually arrives within minutes. Drivers use their own vehicles.
Popularity for the services has skyrocketed over the past year as prices for Uber and Lyft are usually less expensive than cabs. Local 2 Investigates tested Uber's prices for two trips against those of a taxi cab. All cabs in Houston must charge the same rate.
Local 2 Investigates took a taxi from the Galleria area to downtown on a recent weekend. The cost for the taxi was $30.66. The return trip with Uber cost $19.62.
An Uber ride from West Heights to Bush Intercontinental Airport cost $46.88. The return trip in a cab cost $68.50.
The head of Houston's Yellow Cab, which owns several local taxi services, says he is unhappy with Uber and Lyft.
"Right now they are completely illegal," Roman Martinez said. "We've never shirked away from competition as long as they don't skirt the law. These guys have skirted the law from the very beginning. They came in here and said to hell with you. We're not even going to look at your regulations."
All taxis must charge the same rates. Other companies do not. Uber has raised prices on holidays and for special events in some cities. Lyft will raise prices as little as 25 percent to as much as 200 percent during times when the numbers of passengers requests heavily outweighs the numbers of drivers on the road, Lyft spokesperson Paige Thelen said.
Thelen said during periods of slow rider demand, prices can drop as much as 75 percent.
Cabs are inspected by the city. Uber drivers' do their own inspection. Lyft has another Lyft driver do a one-time 19-point check on vehicles.
Taxi drivers undergo FBI background checks. Uber does its own background checks.
"All Uber driver partners pass the strictest background checks in the industry. The screening includes criminal checks at the county, federal and multi-state levels and a review of the drivers' motor vehicle records," Lauren Altmin, Uber spokeswoman, said.
Lyft says its drivers are screened for criminal offenses and driving incidents at national and county levels, including sex offender registries.
A Houston mass tort attorney, who generally files large claims against large companies but is not involved in legislation against Uber and Lyft, says cabs and other companies aren't the same.
"I think most people think of Uber and Lyft, or other companies, as quicker, easier alternatives to taxi cabs, but in reality they are very different," Aimee Robert told Local 2 Investigates.
Uber's terms and conditions tell riders they are riding at their own risk:
"The quality of the transportation services scheduled through the use of the service or application is entirely the responsibility of the third party provider who ultimately provides such transportation services to you. You understand, therefore, that by using the application and the service, you may be exposed to transportation that is potentially dangerous, offensive, harmful to minors, unsafe or otherwise objectionable, and that you use the application and the service at your own risk."
In the past there have been concerns, Robert says, with drivers getting into accidents. Sometimes drivers' personal insurance policies have decided not to cover an accident because the accident was caused during a commercial drive.
Uber and Lyft now provide extra coverage that the companies say will provide up to $1 million of insurance.
However, Robert says such policies haven't been tested in court. Lyft says riders have filed claims in the past and the policies have paid out money to riders.
The City Council has delayed a vote until July 30 on proposed regulations that could require Uber and Lyft drivers to register with the city and will be under the city's oversight.
DETAILS ON THE FARES
Uber charges a base fare of $1.90, $0.19 per minute and $1.48 per mile. Lyft charges a $1.26 pickup charge, $0.17 per minute and $1.33 per mile.
Cabs in Houston charge different rates for daytime and nighttime trips. For daytime trips, the metered travel fee is $2.75 for the first one-eleventh of a mile or less plus $0.20 for each additional one-eleventh of a mile or less.
For nighttime trips, the metered travel fee shall be $3.75 for the first one-eleventh of a mile or less plus $0.20 for each additional one-eleventh of a mile or less. There are also flat rates which are listed at the City of Houston's web page: http://www.houstontx.gov/ara/regaffairs/taxicabs_rates.html.