Council Report: City struggles to reach consensus on vehicle-for-hire ordinance

CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Astrid Riecken)

The City of Fort Worth has spent over a year trying to figure out how to incorporate transportation network companies such as Uber and Lyft into its vehicle-for-hire ordinance. After hearing the latest proposal on the rules June 7, the City Council still hasn’t come to a consensus.

“I’ll tell you right now, I’m not ready to support it because it doesn’t have enough information for me,” Councilwoman Gyna Bivens said.

The vehicles-for-hire ordinance regulates taxis, limousines and shuttles but not transportation network companies, known as TNCs. Douglas Wiersig, the city’s director of transportation and public works, said the goal for the ordinance has been to keep government regulation at a minimum. Uber and Lyft recently left Austin after city voters in May defeated a proposition to reduce regulation of TNCs.

In Fort Worth, the proposed rules have been revised repeatedly over the past year. In the latest draft, the city would require companies to register for an operating license, which would have to be renewed every two years. Drivers who pick up passengers at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport would be required to obtain IDs and vehicle decals, to conform with airport regulations. Like the operating license, driver IDs and vehicle decals would have to be renewed every two years. The cost to obtain an operating license would be $500, with driver IDs costing $35 each and vehicle decals costing $10 each.

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Other than obtaining an operating license from the city, the company would not need to abide by any other city, state or federal driving regulations other than those already in place, Wiersig said.

But the City Council has concerns about the latest proposal. Bivens, for example, said she didn’t want the ordinance to “penalize creativity” and end up becoming a “money grab.” She also expressed concern about the policing of the permits and how entities such as the airport will be able to determine who has a permit

Councilmember W.B. “Zim” Zimmerman suggested that the airport handle credentialing rather than asking the city to provide IDs and vehicle decals.

The city council is scheduled to vote on the ordinance June 14 or 21, according to a city staff report. The date of the vote has been rescheduled multiple times in recent months while city officials haggle over the rules.

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 Though the discussion has taken some time, Uber spokesman Leandre Johns said he’s not worried about how Fort Worth is handling the regulations.

“The devil is in the details of all of these things,” he said. “The council has done a very good job of making sure that the points that are in there are the points that they want made. What we’re looking for is an open marketplace.”

Oleander apartment construction

Construction will begin soon on a $52.3 million, Near Southside apartment project.

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On June 7, the council approved the closure of Seventh Avenue from West Rosedale Street to Oleander Street to accommodate the construction. The vote was 7-0, with council member Ann Zadeh absent and Mayor Betsy Price on a diplomatic trip to Mexico City. The road will be closed from June 22 to June 22, 2018.

The apartment complex, tentatively named the Lofts at Oleander Walk, will be built in the block bounded by West Rosedale Street, West Oleander Street, Hurley Avenue and Fairmount Avenue. Built by Dallas-based developer Lang Partners, the 327-unit apartment complex consists of two five-story buildings with a parking garage in the middle.

Lang Partners President Dirik Oudt said construction could start “any day now” and could take up to two years. The goal is to build an apartment complex within walking distance of the entertainment on Magnolia Avenue, Oudt said.

“You’ve got a lot of employment next to great retail, but now we need to get some great living spaces in walking distance,” he said. “That’s what we hope to do.”

Rent will range from $1,100 to $2,800 a month. Amenities include a resort-style pool and gathering areas.

The project received approval in April for $1.2 million in tax increment funding.

Overtime rules

Following the U.S. Department of Labor’s announcement in May of new overtime rules, the City of Fort Worth released its plan on how city employees will be affected by the changes.

Some employees will have their status changed from exempt to nonexempt, while others will have their wages increased. According to a city staff report, the rules will affect 144 employees; 121 will go from being exempt to nonexempt, thus making them eligible for overtime, and 23 employees whose jobs are exempt will see their wages rise to the $47,476 threshold set by the new rules. The changes are expected to cost the city about $114,000 per year.

The Labor Department’s changes were made under the Fair Labor Standards Act, which requires employers to pay employees overtime for work beyond 40 hours a week unless the employee’s job requirements make him exempt. Among the changes is an increase in the exempt employee’s salary threshold from $455 to $913 per week, or from $23,660 to $47,476 per year. The changes take effect Dec. 1.

Airport ambitions

With city-owned airports at 100 percent capacity and countless patrons on a waiting list, according to Aviation Systems Director Bill Welstead, Fort Worth is looking to improve its airports with a multimillion-dollar plan over the next five years.

The City Council heard a briefing of the plan June 7 at its regular pre-council meeting. Between 2017 and 2021, the city plans to invest $60.6 million on improvements at Alliance Airport, $27 million at Meacham International Airport and $23.4 million at Spinks Airport. The plans include hangar construction, runway extensions and taxiway rehabilitation.

The city council is expected to vote on the plan June 28.

Council Notes

West Seventh bridge lighting: The installation of color-changing, water-resistant LED lights on the West Seventh Street bridge is in progress. The city decided to replace the lights because the system was shorting out during heavy rain. On June 28, the city council is expected to vote to authorize $200,000 for the improvement, and the project should be finished by the fall.

Minority businesses: The city is looking for contracting companies, specifically those owned by minorities, to work on the $450 million Will Rogers Multipurpose Arena project. An open house event is scheduled for June 13 and 15 at the Will Rogers Memorial Center. Construction on the arena is expected to begin in February, with the project finishing in 2019. For information, contact the city’s Office of Business Diversity at 817-212-2674.