MISSOULA — Taxi companies won’t answer to the Montana Public Service Commission if a bill being drafted in Helena ends up on the books.
Rep. Ellie Hill, a Missoula Democrat, and Rep. Austin Knudsen, a Culbertson Republican, are sponsoring legislation that, in its draft form, removes the commission’s authority over “motor carrier transportation.” If passed, the bill likely would affect a Missoula cab company’s case pending before commissioners.
Late last year, commissioners heard testimony on Green Taxi’s request to grow its business into a couple new areas. Green Taxi wants the authority to carry medical passengers and also operate outside Missoula County, but Yellow Cab, Medicab and Valet Limousine argue the expansion would hurt their businesses.
In an email, Rep. Hill said the bill is still in draft form, Commissioner Travis Kavulla is advising the sponsors, and other lawmakers may have similar legislation in the works. The bill’s purpose is to free up the market for cab customers, she said.
“This would eliminate Yellow Cab’s monopoly on the Missoula market and allow Green Taxi or anyone else to compete freely, as I believe consumers want and deserve,” wrote Hill in an email about the draft bill, LC1416.
Once legislators approve a draft bill, the language must pass legal review in order to move ahead. Drafts are subject to significant changes, but as written, the legislation removes the Public Service Commission’s regulatory authority over motor carriers; it also requires the Montana Department of Transportation to oversee motor carrier licensing, insurance and safety laws, and issue certificates for motor vehicles hauling garbage.
The bill probably won’t be the only one introduced that has implications for taxi companies, said Green Taxi owner Mick Murray. Murray said he couldn’t comment on the draft without taking a close look at its contents, but he hopes it cuts the red tape for his business.
“I just hope that instead of adding another layer of bureaucracy to my world, it would remove a bunch of that,” Murray said.
At the same time, he said he can see the bill from both sides. Murray worries one outcome will be “a bunch of competitors entering the market here and affecting my business.”
Kirk Hennefer, on the other hand, said similar bills have died in the past, and he believes this one will meet the same fate. Hennefer, who owns Valet Limousine, said he has concerns about the potential lack of oversight.
Businesses such as his carry $1 million to $1.5 million in liability insurance because riders can be seriously injured, he said. And Hennefer said a deregulated market is not going to protect those consumers.
“It’s a very serious point, and it all boils down to the fact that, how would you provide for your child if he becomes a quadriplegic or if he was maimed or lost a limb or an eye or needed 24-hour care? Do you think you want to have a deregulated situation?” Hennefer said.