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Taxi Commission: Can LA cabs learn from Uber, Lyft?

Will this force the taxi industry to evolve or is this the beginning of the end for the traditional yellow cab?
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
The Taxi Commission will meet on Thursday to discuss how cab companies can better compete with new ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft.

California prosecutors may not like Uber - but some local officials are exploring ways to make cabs more Uber-like.

The Los Angeles Board of Taxicab Commissioners is considering requiring cab companies to make rides available through apps, to make them more competitive with ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft. Unlike in other big cities, it's nearly impossible to hail a cab in most parts of Southern California, so passengers have to call into dispatch centers. 

An advantage that ride-sharing apps have over cab companies is they can adjust their rates in real time. Getting cab companies onto an app would be the first step toward dynamic fare-setting, said Commission President Eric Spiegelman.

"The only way that we can actually manage dynamic fare-setting for taxis is if there's an app that allows it to be done," Spiegelman said. "If passengers are hailing taxi cabs through an app, we can communicate to them that the fare might be different than it was two weeks ago."

A spokesman for Yellow Cab and City Cab, however, said the commission should keep its priorities in check.

"They don't need to worry about apps," spokesman Rick Taylor said. " They need to worry about the safety of passengers."

The commission will hold a discussion Thursday, a little more than a week after Los Angeles and San Francisco district attorneys joined together to file a consumer protection lawsuit against Uber.

According to prosecutors, Uber's background checks on drivers are meaningless because they do not require fingerprints. They also accuse San Francisco's Uber drivers of improperly pocketing fees at the airport. 

"We would like Uber to stop advertising that they have the gold standard in background checks. That is simply not accurate," said Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey.

Cab companies do require drivers to submit their fingerprints for background checks - and have to comply with all kinds of rules that ride-sharing apps don't have to, at least not yet.

Cabs can't discriminate against passengers in low-income neighborhoods, responding to calls whether they come from Pacific Palisades or South Los Angeles. Taxis also have to provide rides to passengers in wheelchairs. 

The commission president said those are regulations the city wants to preserve. 

"If taxi cabs went out of business in Los Angeles, we would cease to be one of the nation's leaders in providing access to people in wheelchairs," Spiegelman said.