Bill to expand ride-sharing services in La. breezes through House

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - It may soon get easier to catch a ride in Louisiana. A bill making its way through the Capitol would expand ride-sharing services across the state.

Right now companies like Uber and Lyft have to reach agreements with individual cities and parishes. HB 749 would create state laws that allow ride-sharing companies to operate anywhere in Louisiana. That means more transportation options for people in rural areas. It would also mean more opportunities for drivers to make money.

Let's Geaux Louisiana, the group pushing the bill, is sponsored by TechNet, which is a lobbying firm that represents both Uber and Lyft.

Critics of the bill say its language protects Uber and Lyft more than it protects passengers.

"What they want is a statewide framework as is done in 45 other states so that you have continuity, the drivers all know what the rules are, you can't have the rules change when you drive your car across a parish boundary," said Sen. Sharon Hewitt-R, Slidell.

The bill breezed through the House last week by a vote of 97 to 1. It now heads to the Senate.

Ride-share driver Victor Silvio said the bill would likely boost his bottom line. The Erwinville resident works exclusively in Baton Rouge since ride-sharing is not available in West Baton Rouge parish. He also said the bill would keep more drunk drivers off Louisiana roads.

"They don't even hardly know about Uber [in Erwinville], because they don't even think about it. They just drive and go home," Silvio said.

It's personal for the father of four. Silvio's 24-year-old son Christopher was killed by a drunk driver in 2013. He's since made it his mission to help save lives.

"I mainly [drive] late nights," he explained. "In fact, I have over 5,000 late-night rides."

The bill would put hundreds more drivers like Silvio on the road, connecting small communities to big cities and potentially boosting local economies. It would streamline the permitting and background check process, and it would also control how much money local governments collect from ride-sharing companies. Cities and parishes with existing agreements would be grandfathered in. The Department of Agriculture would be tasked with managing the rules and collecting the money.

"It makes so much sense, and I believe that all of our constituents want this," Hewitt said. "This is something that we've all come to expect. When I travel to other states and I'm in a city that doesn't have Uber or Lyft, I'm at a loss.

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