Taxi drivers renew push for anti-Uber legislation

For Block Island
Thu, 01/31/2019 - 4:45pm

Block Island’s taxicab drivers are once again renewing their push for an exemption from Rhode Island state law that would prevent ride sharing services from operating on Block Island. One of the island’s taxicab drivers told The Block Island Times that she spoke with Gov. Gina Raimondo about the issue, and is prodding state representatives to renew passage of legislation in the General Assembly calling for the exemption.

State Sen. Susan Sosnowski and State Rep. Blake Filippi told The Times that they need a Town Council resolution to proceed with pursuit of the exemption-seeking legislation. In response, First Warden Ken Lacoste said, “I think the council should prepare, consider, and vote on a resolution updating and continuing our resolve against Uber/Lyft operations on the island, as soon as possible.”

The exemption seeking legislation passed in the Senate in 2017, but was not heard in the House. Sosnowski pushed it in the Senate, while Filippi pursued its passage in the House. The legislation was put before two committees in the House: the House Corporations Committee and the House Municipal Government Committee, but never moved to the floor for a vote.  

“We’re going to advocate for this (legislation) again,” Filippi said during a phone interview. “We’ve spoken with the governor’s office, and they are aware of it. It’s just a question of making the argument again. We need a resolution” to move forward. “We know it’s on the radar. So, the sooner the better.”

Filippi said he was “hopeful” about the legislation’s passage this time around, and that “the House is a different place this year, where certain legislation has a better chance of moving. Every year it’s a different environment.” 

Sosnowski said she needs the resolution from the council to renew her efforts. “The Senate has passed it twice,” she said. “I spoke with Second Warden André Boudreau the other day to see if the Town Council wants me to push the legislation again. So I’m waiting for a resolution.” She added that if the island’s representatives “want to come and meet with the governor, I can work on arranging that too.” 

The renewed push for the legislation was prompted by a Jan. 16 email message sent from taxi driver Fran Migliaccio to Sosnowski and Filippi. Migliaccio told The Times that she spoke with Gov. Raimondo at a fundraiser at the Spring House on August 22, and the governor offered her support. 

In the email, Migliaccio wrote: “You may recall that I emailed you last September to tell you that I had spoken with Governor Raimondo, when she was on-island for a fundraiser, concerning the bill you had introduced to create an exemption for Block Island from Rhode Island General Law that enables Uber, Lyft, and other Transportation Network Companies to operate throughout the state. Her words, after I had explained the situation to her and told her who had introduced the bill on our behalf, were, ‘Have Blake and Sue get in touch with me, and I will help you,’”

“Last fall, it made sense to wait until after the gubernatorial election, then wait until the legislature was seated in January and then wait until Speaker Mattiello was reinstated as Speaker by the legislators,” noted Migliaccio. “Now that all of those things have occurred, I would like to know when you are planning to meet with Governor Raimondo concerning the exemption of Block Island from the RIGL permitting TNCs throughout the State of Rhode Island.”

Exemption from the legislation would mean that ride sharing services such as Uber and Lyft would be subjected to the same regulations as the island’s taxi drivers, including having to put their name on a license waiting list with the town. The Town of New Shoreham regulates the island’s taxi business.

Block Island has 32 licensed taxicab operators, and a taxi ordinance regulating its transportation services that has been in place since 1929.