Battle over Uber drives into Houston

The app allows users to call a luxury town car anytime, anywhere at low fares

Author: Amy Davis, Investigative Reporter/Consumer Expert, adavis@kprc.com
Published On: Jul 25 2013 06:16:31 PM CDT   Updated On: Jul 25 2013 06:32:11 PM CDT
HOUSTON -

Have you ever tried taking a cab or a town car to the airport? You'll pay anywhere between $45 and $105. But a new town car referral service wants to come to Houston and offer lower fares.

Uber is basically an app for your smartphone that lets you call up a luxury town car anytime, anywhere for fares much lower than you can get now. Sounds good, right? Not if you ask local cab and limousine companies.

"This is a company that breaks laws everywhere they go," said Joe Jordan, President of the Houston Limo Operators Networking Group.

Uber's Leandre Johns rebutted, "We're in 18 cities in the United States and we operate legally in every single one."

Both men came to Houston City Council to state their case. Uber has also taken the fight public, holding ice cream socials around Houston, giving away free cones along with a convincing spiel about why consumers here need Uber.

"Current regulations in Houston don't permit Uber to operate here because there are some crazy regulations in place," said Uber's Nairi Hourdajian. "For example, you can't take a black town car anywhere for less than $70. That means for a 10 or 15 minute ride, you literally have to pay $70."

Local 2 took that factoid to Jordan.

"That doesn't seem very consumer friendly," we told him.

"It's not a question of being consumer friendly," Jordan replied. "That's the minimum fare. That's for two hours to dispatch a limousine with a driver wearing a coat and tie. You can't do that for $5."

But Uber says it can. Drivers register with the company so that when you request a ride from your smartphone, they can respond within minutes. Your fare is based on time and distance using each smartphone's GPS with the fare charged automatically to the customer's credit card.

"When Uber says we're gonna do cheaper prices, they're gonna be using what we call gypsy operators -- no licenses, no permits, no background checks. Yeah, and they can do that cheaper," Jordan countered.

Uber denies that claim, too. City Councilman Ed Gonzalez said he's listening to both sides.

"We have to do our due diligence as well and consider what's happening in other states and look at the pros and cons," he said.

The city has hired a consulting firm to study the current transportation ordinance and Uber. The study should be complete in December. City Council isn't expected to make a decision until then.