In its ‘biggest conference ever’ with around 200 attendees from numerous countries, the International Association of Transportation Regulators (IATR) mainly dealt with two topics: apps and accessibility. Not that there were not many more other topics at the 24th IATR Annual Meeting, held in New Orleans from September 21 to 24, but somehow they all had a link with either of these two big topics. Not just the conference programme –unfortunately marred by many time-overruns, an endemic IATR-disease- was juicy, so was the New Orleans-inspired evening programme, where the regulators ‘let the good times roll.’ Some of the most entertaining speakers from the New York and Philadelphia taxi industry were in the evening programme: Evgeny Freidman and Ethan Gerber (Greater NY Taxi Association) and Everett Abitbol (Greater Philadelphia Taxi Association).
Due to the late start and the lack of participants from the major apps like Uber, Sidecar and Lyft, the much-expected last item on the conference agenda unfortunately fizzled out, with the Institute of Justice and the WINGZ-app holding up the side of the apps against heavy hitters from the taxi and FHV industry: Blair Davies (from the Australian association ATIA), Bill Rouse (TLPA) and Richard Antonacci (investors Signature Financial).
Senator Tom Harkin, who campaigned for accessibility since the 60’s and helped to get the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) passed, opened the conference with an inspired video-address. He reminded the conference that measures that benefit accessibility favour many users of public transport and that people with disabilities are not only wheelchair users. “Taxis and FHV –although exempt from the ADA legislation- need to be more accessible”, the Senator said. “New York is already aiming for having 50% of the taxi fleet accessible by 2020. Washington is also moving towards a similar goal. That also means that Uber and Lyft must offer the same accessibility levels.”
As many apps ignore the market of ageing people and people with mobility handicaps, IATR had made a special issue of launching model regulations in this area, based on the best practices from around the world. Many sessions at the conference were dedicated to this theme.
Most other sessions were related to apps. In his keynote, Gregory Serio, former superintendent of the New York State Insurance Department, underlined how difficult and complicated the insurance issue is in the ‘app question’, particularly when it comes to apps using private drivers and their vehicles. It is practically impossible to ascertain whether these drivers are insured and carry enough insurance, especially when they are on the app but not with a passenger.
In the panel dealing with regulatory reform and management, Tina Paez (Houston) vividly described the battle waged in her city to bring the apps in line with taxi and FHV regulation. Joe Mora (Miami-Dade) and James Ney (Philadelphia) stressed how difficult the process is to bring apps into a proper regulatory structure. Sergei Martceniuk (from the professional taxi associations is Russia) underlined how difficult is still is to come to proper regulation in this country. There’s still a long way to go until the newly-voted taxi law gets proper teeth and the taxi industry gets professionalized. In a way Russians for years have enjoyed a type of UberPop/X-type of service, without any regulation.
• The main apps keep shying away from an open dialogue with regulators.