[AP] – Efforts to enact statewide Louisiana regulations for ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft, aimed at expanding the services’ availability around the state, won passage Saturday in the Senate after two years of stalling there.
Continued pressure from lawmakers in regions that don’t have the transportation networks or widespread tax availability broke the logjam this session, with 34 senators supporting the legislation.
Supporters said 44 other states have statewide regulatory frameworks for Uber and Lyft and Louisiana was unnecessarily lagging behind, stifling transportation access that could lessen drunken driving, boost economic development and help the carless.
“It makes us look like we have not caught up with the rest of the country,” said Sen. Beth Mizell, a Franklinton Republican.
Sen. Rick Ward, the Port Allen Republican who handled the bill, said piecemeal regulation that required Uber and Lyft to negotiate with individual municipalities to enter the area has limited access to the ride-hailing services.
Uber and Lyft only operate in a handful of markets in Louisiana, including Baton Rouge, Lafayette and the greater New Orleans area.
Senators told stories about difficulties getting transportation in their areas, such as people traveling the 50-plus miles from the Alexandria airport to Fort Polk and students who have been partying unable to find safe ways to get themselves home.
Only one senator, Republican Danny Martiny of Kenner, opposed the legislation, warning that the regulatory structure created in the measure was certain to face legal challenges. Martiny said Louisiana’s constitution requires such services to fall under the Public Service Commission, not the state transportation department as the bill provides.
“I’ve said every year for three years, you get the regulation like the Public Service Commission regulates the cabs, and I’ll co-sponsor the bill,” Martiny said. “I just don’t understand why they don’t want to do this.”
Sen. Sharon Hewitt, a Slidell Republican, said the Public Service Commission doesn’t regulate all cabs statewide. Ward said the commission doesn’t have the authority to regulate in areas with home rule charters, as two dozen of the state’s parishes have.
“If you want a statewide ridesharing platform, you have to have someone other than the PSC to regulate it,” Ward said.
Martiny’s proposal to shift regulatory authority from the transportation department to the commission failed, with only 12 senators voting for the switch and 22 opposing the idea.
Before senators approved the bill, Martiny warned: “Some cab company or somebody else is going to challenge it” in court.
The measure by Rep. Tanner Magee, a Houma Republican, nears final passage, needing one more House vote to reach the governor’s desk. But Senate passage was seen as the only roadblock to becoming law.