Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Bill Scalzi, president of MetroTaxi (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT — The president of one of the largest taxi cab companies in Connecticut told the legislature’s Insurance and Real Estate Committee Thursday that the taxi industry “is very near extinction.”

Bill Scalzi, president of MetroTaxi, said they’ve watched their customer base disappear “as a result of the oversaturation of for-hire vehicles.”

Scalzi was referring to ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft.

Scalzi said the legislation being debated Thursday would “legitimize” those companies, “without giving the taxi industry a means to compete.”

Instead of opposing legislation that codifies the practice of riding sharing services, Scalzi pitched lawmakers on giving the taxi industry the ability to operate with fewer restrictions.

Scalzi said being able to removing rooftop lights, changing insurance requirements, and allowing drivers to start working on a probationary period before their background checks are completed would be helpful changes to the taxi industry.

“We need to be able to compete with TNC’s,” Scalzi said.

TNC’s are Transportation Network Companies, like Uber and Lyft.

He said he wants to be able to start his own TNC to layer on top of the taxi and livery services his company currently offers. He also wants to be able to offer competitive pricing options like Uber and Lyft are able to do.

“I don’t want to be responsible for making your business extinct,” Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, told Scalzi.

Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Sen. Tim Larson and Rep. Sean Scanlon (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

Sen. Tim Larson, D-East Hartford, said if someone lands at Tweed New Haven Airport and doesn’t have an Uber or a Lyft app on their phone and the taxi industry is gone “there’s no way to get these people off these airports.”

Larson said the taxi industry provides a “public transportation service” that “somehow needs to be protected.”

Scalzi said the reports the state has done on the subject have called for stronger regulation of the industry and not deregulation. 

The legislation being debated at a public hearing Thursday would codify the best practices, according to Sami Naim, public policy manager of Lyft.

The bill provides a regulatory framework to formalize TNC service in Connecticut, like it’s formalized in 38 other states, Naim said.

“Ridesharing is a safe, affordable and convenient way for people to get around and an opportunity for drivers to earn a little extra income,” Scott Coriell, communications manager for Lyft, said. “It also has the potential to unlock significant economic opportunity for businesses across the state.”

Lyft declined to say how many drivers it has in Connecticut. It says it doesn’t share market specific data, but it has more than 600,000 drivers nationwide.

Uber has been servicing Connecticut since April 2014. The company launched in Fairfield and New Haven counties and has since expanded its operation to Hartford and New London. Lyft suspended its services in Connecticut in 2015, but started back up in November and is currently recruiting drivers.

A bill that would have tightened regulations for ride-sharing services passed the House in 2015, but stalled in the Senate.

The 2015 bill would have tightened background checks for drivers and would have established insurance coverage requirements that don’t currently exist.

The Insurance Association of Connecticut testified Thursday that the insurance coverage requirements in the legislation need to be tightened to ensure that the TNC insurance policy is in effect when the driver has the app-on and is seeking fares.

The legislation mandates primary insurance of $1 million in liability when the driver has passengers. It also mandates primary insurance coverage of $50,000 per person for bodily injury, $100,000 per accident for bodily injury and $25,000 for property damage.