Leroy N. Soetoro
2016-03-11 21:32:53 UTC
San Diego taxi company owner Alfredo Hueso is a frustrated businessman.
State regulations are helping companies like Uber and Lyft rob him of
business, he believes. And as he complained in a recent letter to the
state Senate president, elected leaders arent doing anything to fix the
In that battle, though, Hueso has one advantage over the ridesharing
companies: His younger brother is state Sen. Ben Hueso, an important
advocate in Sacramento for the taxi industry.
Since his election to the Legislature more than five years ago, the
Democratic lawmaker has pushed for stiffer regulation of rideshare
companies amid a battle playing out all over the country. At the same
time, the burgeoning industry has stepped up its attempt to influence
policy in Sacramento.
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Two bills to ease regulations for ridesharing companies passed the
Assembly last year, with only a single No vote between them. But they
have stalled in the Senate's Energy, Utilities and Communications
Committee, where Hueso is chairman.
Hueso has not scheduled votes on either bill, a strategy that's commonly
used in Sacramento to kill legislation.
The senator says that his determination to bring broader regulation to the
ridesharing industry is informed by his long history with transportation
I think mistakes are being made here in the Legislature, Hueso said in
Hueso's familiarity with transportation comes through his family's taxi
business, which has been threatened by the rapid expansion of ridesharing
In 1982, Huesos father purchased USA Cab, and Ben Hueso, the eighth of
nine children, began helping after school with the company while he was in
his early adolescence, he said.
Later, Hueso drove for USA Cab and founded a related company with Alfredo
and another brother, Jose Antonio, to provide transit services for the
handicapped. (With 42 taxis, USA Cab now has the largest fleet in San
Hueso said he never had any personal financial interest in USA Cab and
sold his share in the related business in the early 2000s, a few years
before first winning elected office on San Diego's City Council.
Hueso was elected to the Assembly in 2010 and won a special election for
state Senate less than three years later.
One of the two bills bottled up in Huesos committee would formally exempt
drivers from companies such as Uber and Lyft from needing commercial
license plates, making it easier for people to work for the services and
save drivers money.
USA Cab, owned by Huesos brothers Alfredo and Jose Antonio, has in fact
joined other San Diego taxi businesses in suing the state to force
regulators to make rideshare drivers register for those plates.
Ben Hueso said he was not aware of the lawsuit, and that it had no
influence on his position on the legislation.
If youre going to write a story saying Im doing this for my brother,
he said, its going to be wrong.
Three years ago while in the Assembly, Hueso introduced a bill to classify
taxi drivers as independent contractors instead of employees of cab
companies. The distinction matters because companies generally have to
give their employees more generous wages, provide more insurance and meal
breaks and allow for easier attempts to unionize among many other work
Hueso has said his bill was motivated by a multi-year lawsuit against his
brothers by drivers who argued they should have been treated as employees,
not contractors. The bill never went anywhere.
The state Legislature has become a key battleground between the taxi
industry and less-regulated rideshare companies. As of last summer,
lobbyist spending by Uber alone was in the top 3% of companies and
organizations at the Capitol.
The growth of Uber and Lyft has rocketed in recent years and they have
taken a chunk of taxis market share. As of January 2015, taxi revenue in
San Francisco was about $140 million a year while Ubers in the city was
approximately $500 million and growing 200% a year, according to Ubers
Last year, after the state Department of Vehicles issued an advisory
opinion that rideshare drivers were required to register for commercial
license plates, Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell) introduced AB 828 to
exempt them. (The advisory opinion has since been withdrawn.)
Around the same time, Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) wrote AB
1360, which would allow rideshare companies to carpool, picking up
multiple passengers with different destinations at the same time.
Both bills sailed through the Assembly, but got stuck once they landed in
Huesos state Senate committee last summer. Hueso said that he wanted to
have a comprehensive hearing on rideshare companies before allowing
discussion on what he called piecemeal bills. That hearing occurred last
During the discussion, Hueso closely questioned ridesharing companies'
representatives, suggesting that Uber and Lyft's technologies shouldn't be
proprietary because taxi cab meters aren't. He also expressed frustration
that state regulators have been unable to provide strong oversight over
the rideshare companies' drivers.
Robert Callahan, who leads the California branch of the Internet Assn.
trade group and is an advocate for both bills, said his organization is
disappointed Hueso has yet to put them up for a vote.
We dont mind when folks disagree with us, Callahan said. We just want
to have our day in court, so to speak, and have these bills get an
opportunity to be heard.
Low, who sponsored the bill to exempt ridesharing companies from being
required to have commercial plates, declined comment. Ting, sponsor of the
carpool legislation, said he endorsed Huesos comprehensive approach but
was hoping Hueso would schedule a committee vote 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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Hueso said he would schedule both bills for committee discussions, likely
in June. That would be less than a month before a deadline to act on the
bills, which by that point will have been before his committee for almost
a year. He maintains that his push for greater regulation over the
ridesharing industry is solely driven by his concern for public safety and
Hueso said his role in the legislative debate was no different from
legislators who are farmers or cattle ranchers making decisions on bills
for those industries.
Its pretty sad to me that you could have a doctor running a bill
requiring immunizations that the doctor industry is sponsoring and nobody
sees anything wrong with that, Hueso said. It cant be nepotism if what
Im doing is a benefit to the whole society. Im not doing a specific law
just for my brother.
For his part, Alfredo Hueso said having his brother in the Legislature
If you want the truth, Alfredo Hueso said, him being there hurts our
cause because it looks like hes doing me a favor.
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