- Associated Press - Saturday, March 12, 2016

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - Two California bills to ease regulation of Uber and other ride-hailing companies have been bottled up for nearly a year in a committee chaired by a lawmaker whose brothers own a San Diego taxi company.

But state Sen. Ben Hueso denies family ties have anything to do with it. “It can’t be nepotism if what I’m doing is a benefit to the whole society. I’m not doing a specific law just for my brother,” the Chula Vista Democrat told the Los Angeles Times (https://lat.ms/2279SdL ).

Ride-hailing services have been booming in popularity, undercutting cab companies. In San Francisco alone, taxis took in about $140 million a year as of January 2015 while Uber had $500 million a year, according to the company’s CEO.

Hueso has been critical of ride-hailing services, which don’t have to meet the same stringent safety and business regulations as taxi firms.

Many states have been looking at increasing the regulations on ride-hailing companies, from requiring drivers to pass tougher background checks to banning “surge” pricing, when the cost of a fare rises dramatically during times of peak demand.



Uber and Lyft have fought hard against the efforts and stepped up lobbying. In California, Uber was in the top 3 percent of companies and organizations in lobbyist spending as of last summer, the Times reported.

Last year, the Assembly passed two bills that would exempt ride-sharing drivers from needing commercial license plates and permitting them to carpool - that is, pick up passengers at the same time who have different destinations.

The bills passed with virtually no opposition, but they have stalled in the Senate’s Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee, which Hueso chairs. He has not scheduled votes on either bill - a common strategy for killing legislation.

Hueso’s brothers, Alfredo and Jose Antonio Hueso, own USA Cab, which has joined other San Diego taxi companies in suing the state. They want to force regulators to require commercial license plates for ride-hailing drivers.

Hueso said he was unaware of the lawsuit and it didn’t influence his legislative position. “If you’re going to write a story saying I’m doing this for my brother, it’s going to be wrong,” he told the Times.

Alfredo Hueso said: “If you want the truth, him being there hurts our cause because it looks like he’s doing me a favor.”

Ben Hueso said he planned to schedule the bills for discussion probably in June. That would be leave less than a month before the committee deadline to act on them.

Hueso did take part in a comprehensive hearing on ride-hailing companies last month. He expressed frustration that state regulators have been unable to provide strong oversight of drivers for ride-hailing firms, the Times said.

Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, who wrote the bill allowing ride-hailing drivers to carpool, said he hoped Hueso’s committee would act soon.

“We got zero ‘no’ votes in the Assembly,” Ting said. “We got zero ‘no’ votes in our first Senate committee hearing. I am still very hopeful we can get it through the Legislature this year.”

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