By Lea Kahn, Staff Writer
WEST WINDSOR — Township Council is expected to consider a resolution in support of proposed state legislation that would regulate so-called transportation network companies, such as Uber of Lyft, at its Dec. 21 meeting.
Township Council invited representatives of Uber, the ride-sharing company, and limousine and taxicab companies to discuss their issues at its Dec. 7 work meeting, but only the president of the Limousine Association of New Jersey and two taxicab company owners attended.
The limousine and taxicab drivers are concerned that they are losing business to Uber. Clients typically contact Uber drivers through an “app” on their smartphones.
Jeff Shanker, who is the president of the Limousine Association of New Jersey and executive vice president of the West Windsor Township-based A-1 Limousine Co., explained the difference between a limousine and a taxicab, and transportation network companies such as Uber.
Limousines can pick up passengers anywhere in New Jersey, but taxicab trips must originate in the town where the taxicab company is based. TNCs, such as Uber, can pick up passengers anywhere. In all cases, the limousine, taxi or TNC driver can take the passenger to any destination — inside or outside of the town.
While limousine companies and taxicab companies are required to purchase commercial insurance at a minimum amount, TNCs do not, Mr. Shanker said. He alleged that the minute a car owner accepts money for a ride from a passenger, the driver’s insurance is cancelled. There would be no insurance policy in place if a claim were to be filed against the driver.
TNC drivers do not have the same training as professional drivers, and they are not subject to the same background checks that professional drivers must undergo, Mr. Shanker said. The cars owned by TNC drivers also do not undergo the same safety inspections as limousines and taxicabs.
But the proposed state legislation would require the TNC drivers to meet the same standards as limousine and taxicab drivers. TNCs would have to ensure there is adequate commercial insurance coverage for the drivers, and they would be required to conduct a background check to ensure the driver is not a registered sex offender. A driver must be at least 21 years old.
“Public safety must be at the forefront,” Mr. Shanker said.
TNCs should follow limousine regulations, he said. But there has been a public outcry that Uber is something new and the people say they love it. In reality, TNCs are nothing new, he said. They are just cars for hire.
Nevertheless, people love the “immediacy” and that they get picked up right away, said Township Council Vice President Linda Geevers. But they are not going to love it if they are in a car accident and there is no insurance, she said. The passengers also do not know the background of the driver.
Township Councilman Peter Mendonez, who acknowledged that he has used Uber, said he has spoken to the drivers. They may be retirees, or they can’t find a job, or they are single parents who are trying to earn money, he said. But he would support the proposed resolution.
“We are going to have to deal with this ‘sharing’ economy,” Mr. Mendonez said.
Wrapping up the session, Township Council President Bryan Maher said the work meeting was “super-enlightening. It was really helpful.”
By Lea Kahn, Staff Writer