Houston city council gives green light to Uber, Lyft

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- Houston city council on Wednesday gave the green light to transportation services Uber and Lyft to operate in Houston.

By a vote of 10-5, council members passed the ordinance. Council members Jerry Davis, Mike Laster, C.O. Bradford, Michael Kubosh and Jack Christie voted no.

Uber and Lyft are two of the hottest technology-based vehicle for hire companies in the country. Both have expanded quickly in the United States and around the world. Based on the concept that anyone with a smart phone app can hire a car to take them somewhere, the two Silicon Valley darlings have attracted lots of attention, and funding from big time investors.

But with the quick expansion, the companies have run into legal issues in a number of cities. Houston was no exception. A few months ago, both companies began operating in the Houston area without legal authorization.

Drivers, using their own personal cars and vetted by the companies, show up after being requested. Payment is cashless, charged through the apps. As they operated, heavy lobbying at city hall ensued. Yellow Cab, the city's largest cab company, did not want Uber and Lyft to come into the city unregulated.

While all sides battled, Lyft driver Younes Hyder kept the pink mustache that symbolized Lyft in his trunk. This afternoon, he eagerly unearthed the pink mustache, minutes after city council voted to make ride sharing apps legal.

"I think it's a big relief because I was always like, I want to do something that's right but the city didn't allow me to do that," said Hyder, who works in sales when he is not driving a Lyft car. "Now the city is on our side."

For their part, Yellow Cab did not call Wednesday's vote to authorize major competition a loss.

"We're going to compete, we just wanted to make sure the playing field was level, and that everybody was going to play by the same rules," said Yellow Cab's CEO Ramon Martinez.

Council members did pass several amendments that were designed to make the competition more level. Currently, Uber and Lyft do not have a metered fare like a cab, and can change how much they charge based on demand. City leaders voted to allow that for cabs as well. But, it will only apply to cabs hailed through an app, not to cabs people catch on the street or at a hotel. Those cabs will still need to adhere to meter rates.

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