A Los Angeles City Council committee Wednesday asked for a report on the possibility of allowing digital advertising signs on taxicabs, which committee members said could bring the embattled industry some much-needed revenue.
The report could be completed and submitted to council’s Transportation Committee as early as January or February, Los Angeles Department of Transportation officials said.
Seleta Reynolds, the LADOT general manager, said the best way to examine the impacts of such mobile digital advertising would likely be to create a pilot program.
The proposal would only apply to taxicabs, not ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft.
One of the advertising companies committee members discussed is Firefly, which has smart-phone technology that is used to change out advertisements.
Councilwoman Nury Martinez said she’s not an “advocate for the advertising industry,” but she acknowledged that taxis have struggled to compete with the ride-hailing companies. She pointed to recently enacted changes at Los Angeles International Airport, where cabs are no longer permitted to pick up passengers inside the Central Terminal Area.
“The taxi industry has been (decimated) by the un-level playing field that we have given the (ride-hailing companies),” Martinez said.
David Michaelson, chief assistant city attorney, expressed concern with the proposal. He said the City Attorney’s Office sent a “confidential report” to the council that noted inconsistencies between the proposal and state and local laws. He said only allowing digital advertising on taxis and not other vehicles could be legally challenging.
“The city is going to have to have an explanation, a rationale, as to what is the sort of nexus or connection as to why only taxi drivers are allowed to be piloting these devices and no one else,” Michaelson said. “The rationale would probably not work if it’s just taxi drivers are suffering financially, and that’s a worthy cause, I get it. But that may not help.”
Councilman Paul Koretz said there is city law that allows for advertisements on vehicles, but they are not taxi regulations.
“I don’t see any overwhelming case for these not being legal,” Koretz said “We should regulate them, and I’m not 100% opposed to including some Uber and Lyft vehicles, also. I’m just opposed to them (ride-hailing companies) running wild with this technology. Now if we do something to allow them (taxis) the tiniest bit of income and possibly allow taxi drivers to remain in existence, I think that’s a reasonable goal.”
The committee voted 2-1 to approve the report, with Councilman Mike Bonin, who chairs the committee, dissenting. He said the advertising could be a dangerous distraction on the streets.