A City Council committee opted against taking any action Wednesday on a motion calling for a ban on digital rooftop advertising on taxicabs and ride-hailing vehicles after two of the three members expressed some reservations about the proposal.
Councilman Bob Blumenfield, who introduced the motion, said that there has recently been a significant increase in the number of digital devices affixed to Uber and Lyft ride-hailing vehicles, posing a threat to safety.
“We know that it is a distraction. It would not be an effective advertisement if it was not a distraction,” Blumenfield said. “The whole point of the billboard is to distract you. That is why people are paying money to put their ad on a billboard, to distract someone. That is a danger on the road.”
A company called Firefly, which installs the rooftop devices, was singled out in Blumenfield’s motion, which said Uber and Lyft drivers who agree to mount the digital screens on their vehicles may be paid an average of $300 monthly.
In November, the City Attorney’s Office informed Firefly that installation and operation of its devices is illegal under state and city law, and the motion alleges the company disregarded the warning and continues to place the devices on ride-hailing vehicles operating in the city.
A representative of the company told the committee that the devices were perfectly legal, while a representative of the City Attorney’s Office argued they were not and that the city law authorizing mounted advertising on taxis was out of date.
In December, representatives of Firefly appeared before the Board of Taxicab Commissioners to request that the company be permitted to install its devices on the roofs of taxis pursuant to Board Rule 415(c), which allows commercial advertising to be mounted on a taxicab roof or trunk, according to Blumenfield’s motion. The board has not acted on the request but is scheduled to hear the item next.
The motion also says that 415(c) was adopted by the Board of Public Works many years ago, before there was a Taxicab Commission or digital sign technology, and was intended to allow static advertisements to be installed on taxicabs as long as doing so complied with state and city law.
Blumenfield’s office said state law authorizes vehicle digital advertising only as part of a pilot program on buses operated by the Antelope Valley Transit Authority, the city of Santa Monica, and UC Irvine.
Koretz said he was not necessarily inclined to agree with the City Attorney’s Office.
“As a council member in two cities, I’ve been disagreeing with city attorneys for over 30 years, and many times I’ve been right, and just because it comes from the city attorney doesn’t mean it’s always the best interpretation,” Koretz said. “I think the Taxi Commission has been more focused on this than we have and I’d be very interested to get their input.”
Both Koretz and Councilwoman Nury Martinez also expressed reservations at the idea of banning advertising on taxis because it could hurt the incomes of drivers.
Blumenfield’s motion would direct the city attorney to prepare and present a draft ordinance to repeal Taxicab Board Rule 415(c) and request that the Department of Transportation and the Los Angeles Police Department take enforcement action against drivers operating vehicles with the devices within the city.
Advocates for the digital technology said not allowing the signs could harm drivers’ incomes and lead to higher rates for riders.
“We need to be allowed to modernize and provide new opportunities for drivers to make additional income and compete,” said Andrey Minosyan of L.A. Independent Taxi. “Innovative digital mobile rooftop advertising allows drivers to earn more without working longer or increasing prices. Any ban would directly harm taxi drivers’ opportunities and the viability of the industry.”