LIHUE — The arrival of two ride-sharing companies that allow users to order rides via phone apps is causing unease among local taxi companies.
“It’s upsetting because I pay high insurance; I pay my taxes; I pay GET; I pay fees to be a taxi on Kauai to the airport, to the harbor, to the county. I have three criminal background checks to do the business I do,” said Carol Jameson, owner of Kauai Taxi Company. “To know that none of those requirements are required of them and they’re basically doing the same exact business I am, I’m not too happy about.”
A spokeswoman said Uber does not follow the Kauai County taxi ordinance because the San Francisco-based company is not a taxi service.
“It’s a ride-sharing service. It’s a technology company, where drivers are licensing the software and providing rides,” said Taylor Patterson for Uber. “It’s a completely different model than traditional taxi companies.”
Uber launched operations on Kauai on March 10 and operates in 550 cities worldwide, Patterson said.
Mary Daubert, a spokeswoman for the county, said the Office of the County Attorney is reviewing the information.
According to Kauai County ordinance, the number of taxicabs authorized to operate on the island is limited to one for every 50 hotel rooms.
With the addition to Uber and Lyft, Jameson said the allotted amount of taxis is exceeded.
“The fact that I can’t expand my fleet but we just let 50 other taxis come here — what’s the deal with that?” she said. “It’s not right.”
Jameson said there are about 65 taxis currently operating on Kauai.
Uber declined to disclose the number of drivers operating on the island for competitive reasons.
“We believe the transportation ecosystem is a large one. Folks should have the choice to get around how they see fit,” Patterson said. “That means driving their own personal vehicles, taking the bus, riding their bike, walking or taking a ride-sharing service like Uber.”
Uber drivers who operate in Hawaii are required to undergo county, state and federal background checks, Patterson said.
“Every driver is required to carry personal vehicle insurance for their car,” she said. “When they’re actually on an Uber trip, they are covered by $1 million of liability insurance, which is exponentially more than a taxi is required to comply with.”
Jameson said she “easily pays” up to $10,000 of yearly fees to operate her cab service.
“They fall into two categories: They’re a taxi and they’re collecting money for higher. We deal in the tourist industry,” she said. “If you’re collecting money for any service within the tourist industry or any industry connected to it, you are governed by our state. You have to pay taxes and have to have licenses and fees.”
Steven Carvalho, owner Steve’s Taxi, is also disappointed Uber was allowed to operate on island.
“It’s just not fair. Competition is good, but unfair competition not good,” he said. “They’re not paying fees. Why should we pay fees if these guys are operating? If the county continues letting them operate on the island, there could be a lawsuit because of that law.”
On Dec. 1, the Honolulu City Council differentiated Uber and Lyft from taxi services, Patterson said.
“We know that jurisdiction in the vast majority of states in the U.S. as well as countries around the world have acknowledged ride-sharing as a different type of model,” Patterson said. “The drivers are independent contractors. They are providing rides and picking up riders to get them from point A to point B.”
Kaiulani Mahuka, a driver for At Your Service Taxi, works three to four days a week.
“When I heard Uber and Lyft were coming, I was really disappointed because we got all these small businesses struggling,” she said. “Instead of supporting our small businesses, you’re bringing Uber and Lyft over here.”
Mahuka encourages people to support local taxi drivers.
“I’m not saying ‘Don’t support Uber.’ (Local taxis) are the small businesses of the island,” she said. “If we continue to put small businesses out of business, what does that look like at the end of the day?”
Patterson said she believes Uber is more reliable and more affordable than taxis.
Kauai taxis charge a base fare of $3 and 30 cents for every 1/10 of a mile. The base fare for an Uber ride is $2 and $1.50 per mile.