Technology has outpaced legislation when it comes to companies like Uber but Trenton has taken notice and is acting—whether Uber or its likeminded competition like it or not.Both the state Assembly and Senate are considering almost matching bills that would establish criteria for doing business for what are referred to as transportation network companies (TNCs), such as Uber, probably the most identifiable in the public’s eye right now, but also Lyft, Sidecar and Wings. Uber has expressed opposition to the bills for going too far and a representative from the state limousine association objects for not going far enough.These technology companies have established smartphone and tablet apps to connect paying riders with drivers and their usually privately owned vehicles.But those in the traditional livery transportation industry have objected that these companies are not as regulated and have an unfair advantage.“It’s now, it’s sexy and it’s in vogue,” maintained Jeff Shanker, president of the Limousine Association of New Jersey. “But in reality they’re doing the same thing as a limousine does, the same thing a taxi does—transportation from point A to point B. The only difference is they’re taking out the middle person, the dispatcher.”He stressed they should have to play by the same rules about property liability coverage and background checks for drivers.Lawmakers have acknowledged the disparity.“With the TNCs the market is basically unregulated,” noted Assemblyman Joseph Lagana, a Democrat representing the 38th District, taking in parts of Bergen and Passaic counties.The major issue for Lagana is “at the end of the day we have to protect the public.”To that end Lagana has sponsored Bill 3765 that would enact a series of regulations covering this relatively new way of operating a transportation service.The bill has been in the Assembly chamber’s Transportation Committee but added a number of amendments and is scheduled to return to the committee on March 19 for further consideration, according to Lagana.“This is an emerging technology. It’s not like a limousine service, it’s not like a taxi service. But it is,” said Lagana, who hopes to establish ground rules without unduly burdening this developing business model.“We’re not trying to over-regulate anybody,” Lagana said. “Essentially what we’re trying to do is put basic protections in place while at the same time ensuring the established livery service are not cast out as second class citizens.”Lagana is a lawyer who specializes in automobile and auto insurance-related matters. His sponsored bill would require these companies to register with the state; to have sufficient insurance acquired by the company, on a level required of limousine companies (which is higher than required of taxis), and on the drivers—even though they are driving their personal vehicles; and to have hired drivers get criminal background checks, register with the state Division of Motor Vehicles and receive a designated DMV identification.Uber’s Mohrer said last week his company already does background checks and provides insurance coverage for drivers, passengers and cars.Lagana said he has yet to see the insurance coverage Uber provides. As for the other provisions, the assemblyman said good for them but it should be required for all.As for possible regulations, Mohrer said last week the company is working with lawmakers to draft legislation “that makes sense.”Lagana said in his dealings with TNCs, “In my opinion, they’re not really in favor of any regulation.“But, obviously,” he continued, “That’s not acceptable.”Matthew Wing, a spokesman for Uber, said in an email on Wednesday, “This bill was written to protect the status quo and drive Uber out of New Jersey.”If this bill becomes law “it will take economic opportunities away from 5,000 New Jersey Uber-driver partners and prevent over 100,000 New Jersey residents from getting a safe, convenient ride, whenever they want, wherever they want, wherever they are,” Wing said.“We still have grave concerns,” Shanker said of this legislation, believing “public safety is still at risk” even with the provisions outlined in the bill.By John Burton
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