By Marshall Cearfoss
Uber, the app-based transportation company, is coming to Tyler this fall after a new city ordinance.
“We’ve had members of the community that stepped up to say they’d love to see this type of operation be able to work here,” said Edward Broussard, Tyler city manager.
On Wednesday, Aug. 24, the Tyler City Council approved a change to the city ordinance which will now allow businesses such as Uber and Lyft to operate in the city. The change came after Uber approached the Tyler officials with the proposition.
“The issue [was] that the ordinance that was in place didn’t allow for their type of operations to occur,” said Broussard. “It was very specific about the taxicab industry that currently existed and didn’t really allow for anything of this nature, as far as app-based or transportation-for-hire companies to be able to operate.”
Broussard, along with the other city officials, deliberated on how they could change the ordinance in such a way to ensure that the current taxicab company in Tyler would be able to continue operations after Uber joined the community.
“And really, at the end of the day, that’s what the ordinance becomes. It’s a level playing field for both, what we call, brick and mortar taxi cab industries – those that are based here and work here in Tyler – as well as for those that are more app-based technology type of functions, such as Uber and Lyft,” said Broussard.
Taylor Burris, a former Uber driver, believes that the new ordinance is a great step for Tyler’s business.
“I think it was a really good move for Tyler to do this, not only for jobs, but also to cut down on drunk driving,” said Burris, “It also gives way for people to get a safe ride home, maybe for elderly people or kids that can’t drive. … I picked up a lot of international students whenever I was down by UT [Austin]. I’d take them to the airport and all kinds of stuff.”
Burris worked for the company when he lived in Austin, and plans to resume driving for Uber when it comes to Tyler.
“Especially because this is my hometown, I know it really well. I’d probably be picking up a lot of my friends,” said Burris. “It’s a great way to learn the area, and it’s a great way to meet new people. I actually met a lot of cool people that I met up with after driving them in my Uber.”
Not all of Tyler agrees with the ordinance, though. Jamal Moharer, the owner of Tyler’s taxicab company, known as NDMJ, Ltd Transportation, welcomes open markets but not changing laws.
“To lower our operating standards or lower the regulatory standards in order to invite another company is inconsistent with the concept of free enterprise,” said Moharer. “Free enterprise says, here are the rules, and everybody can play with those. Last Wednesday, we changed the rules in order to accommodate the commercial interest of another entity. That is not an even playing field, that is manipulating the rules.”
NDMJ has been in Tyler since 1988, and at any given time can have up to 30 vehicles in circulation. Although Uber would be NDMJ’s direct competition, Moharer is confident that the company will remain strong in the community.
“We don’t see any problem on our end,” said Moharer. “We’ve served the community, and we like to think that we’ve served them well … But we’re not here to set the rules, we’re here to play by the rules. We’ve done it for almost 30 years, and we’ll continue to do so.”
Moharer also mentions that NDMJ has a smartphone app like Uber, called NexTaxi for both iPhone and Android.
“If it’s an app that most people are referring to, we have our own app that is a local app. It does everything that Uber’s app can do, plus more. With Uber’s app, you can’t make a reservation for tomorrow, with us you can. With Uber’s app, you can’t request a specific type of vehicle, like if you have a large group, but with us you can. With Uber’s app, you can’t pay cash, but with us you can. We also take credit cards,” said Moharer.
One of the concerns that Uber must confront is the safety of their clients. Moharer mentioned the lawsuits brought up against Uber for violating operating standards and public safety, which he stated add up to about $200 million.
“It has to do with the risk tolerance. If they have a high risk tolerance, then I suggest them try Uber. You know, it wasn’t too long ago that we were telling our children not to talk to strangers, and now we’re telling them to get in a car with a stranger,” said Moharer.
Taylor Burris explained how Uber, although available for nearly everyone to drive, does have means of checking who drives for them.
“Anybody can do it as long as you have a car that can seat four people and, you know, are sane,” said Burris. “You have somebody come out when you get hired, and they take your picture, inspect your car, and make sure you’re not a serial killer.”
He also noted how it could not only be a danger for the passengers, but for the drivers, too.
“I haven’t had anything super crazy happen. I haven’t had anybody try to kill me; that was one of my biggest concerns. They’re strangers getting in your car, you just pick them up on an app and you don’t know where you’re going,” said Burris.
As Tyler officials deliberated the ordinance, one of their main concerns was safety.
“The thing we’ll always have to monitor is the safety aspect,” said Broussard. “That’s been something that’s been concerning in a number of different communities as they’ve wrestled with what type of regulations to put into effect. For us, we went to the very least regulations that we could, but still feel like the public was safe.”
Moharer encourages those who keep local business and Tyler’s growth in mind to continue using NDMJ.
“20% of their transportation dollars will be sent to San Francisco. With us, you buy here, you invest here. We’re a local community. We’ve been here a long time, and we plan to be here a lot longer after Uber’s gone.”
For more information on NDMJ, visit www.tylercab.com. For Uber, visit www.uber.com.