Houston should say yes to Uber and Lyft

Over the past several months, the Houston City Council has been discussing proposed changes to the city ordinance dealing with vehicles for hire. I’ve listened during committee meetings and public sessions. I’ve studied the presentations and analyzed the data.

Most importantly, I’ve spoken with and read emails from my constituents from across the city — countless Houstonians from all walks of life who want and need more ways to get around our growing city. 

As the council prepares to vote Wednesday on new regulations for vehicle-for-hire companies like Uber and Lyft, I write today in favor of revising the ordinance so that these new entrants to Houston’s transportation market may operate. Citizens overwhelmingly want more options, and I think it’s our duty to not stand in the way of competition and better technology and service. In the process, we can bring new jobs to our great city.

Expanding free-market competition will force current companies to improve their product while requiring new companies to find their own place in the market. As a business owner myself, I know that we cannot underestimate the value of competition. In fact, on April 21, Federal Trade Commission officials wrote: “Competition is at the heart of America’s economy. Vigorous competition among sellers in an open marketplace can provide consumers the benefits of lower prices, higher quality products and services, and greater innovation. This is just as true for app-based transportation and other kinds of [peer-to-peer] services as well.”

I’ve heard a lot of talk about a level playing field. The status quo is not synonymous with a level playing field. The city will continue to ensure that businesses that operate in our jurisdiction operate within our regulatory framework. While we must always protect the public good, it is not the role of the government to protect companies from competition — quite the opposite. We opened Hobby Airport to international flights to compete with Bush Intercontinental, and I’ll continue to advocate for business-friendly ordinances that will increase competition citywide.

Giving more options to the senior who needs a ride to the doctor’s office, the student who has to get to class, the person who’s had too much to drink and doesn’t want to get behind the wheel, or the businessperson needing a quick ride to catch a flight is a good thing. 

City government should not be picking winners and losers. I don’t want to dictate who gets the fare. That is up to the consumer, but that can’t happen unless we first update the outdated way we regulate vehicles for hire. Houston shouldn’t lag behind. We should be ahead of the curve; we are a global leader.

I’m ready to move forward. I’m ready to work with my colleagues and the administration to update our regulations to allow Houstonians, not city government, the ability to decide which private company they choose to rely on for their personal transportation needs.

Stephen Costello

Houston city councilman