City by City, Lyft and Uber Take on Taxis, Regulators
We’ve been covering the San Francisco-based ride-service companies Lyft and Uber for some time now, focusing on questions related to insurance and safety. Taxi companies and drivers in the city have been irate since these firms started taking a noticeable chunk of their business. A 2013 decision by the California Public Utilities Commission to let the companies operate in the state under less rigid rules than the locally regulated taxi business did not appease cab interests one bit. Lyft, in fact, has been pointing to California as a model for what regulation of ride-service firms should look like.
Uber was reported to be valued at $3.5 billion at one point last year. And Lyft, for what it’s worth, told TechCrunch last December that it’s “seeing its revenues grow at a rate of about 6 percent every single week ….”
These San Francisco companies have been exporting this new app-based, sharing-economy model of vehicular transportation all over the U.S., with a similar pattern emerging whenever they come to town: Local taxi interests hoot and holler, and local agencies and elected officials grapple with how –or if — to put the brakes on the unregulated drivers and vehicles who now traverse their cities carrying paying customers.
A handful of cities, like New Orleans, Portland and Miami, have banned the upstarts entirely. But around the country, industry leaders Uber and Lyft are expanding as quickly as they can, with regulators trying to play catch-up. Here’s a rundown from local media of the latest regulatory developments in various cities:
WBZ (Feb 25) Boston Police Commissioner William Evans says he wants more public regulation of what he calls “gypsy cabs.” The commissioner on WBZ NewsRadio 1030 last night singled out a popular mobile app Uber, which connects drivers with passengers….Evans questioned the level of safety and security provided by these new app services because they are not subject to the same level of scrutiny as traditional cabs.
Boston Globe (March 1) As Mayor Martin J. Walsh and his new team at City Hall prepare to overhaul Boston’s transportation policies, one car service popular among Boston’s tech set isn’t likely to face any changes: Uber …. Many critics have said that the only way to ensure Uber is truly safe, and its drivers are properly trained, is to subject it to the same regulations that cabs have endured for years.
“People should feel safe when they are traveling in Boston,” the mayor said Friday. “We cannot turn a blind eye to public safety concerns around unregulated modes of transportation, but we also cannot condemn a popular, effective service like Uber that takes responsible steps to ensure the safety of their users. There is a balance.”
Walsh said he is taking a comprehensive look at the city’s transportation services — from taxis to buses to smartphone car services — and is working with the new police commissioner, William Evans, to come up with new policies.
WBEZ (Feb 25) The fight over the future of ridesharing in Chicago is increasingly being waged through shadowy lobbyists. This has some aldermen concerned about how that could influence the current regulatory debate.
At a hearing at City Council’s Joint Committee on Transportation and Finance on Monday, some noted that the lobbying activity on the issue appeared different from the usual at City Hall. They said they were disturbed by the apparent emergence of advocates for ride-sharing companies like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar, who have not identified their interests upfront.
WBEZ (Feb 5)
The Mayor’s office introduced new rules at Wednesday’s City Council meeting, aimed at bringing the (ride-service) companies into the regulatory fold. But the move is already angering some who say the city should use its existing regulations for taxicabs and livery vehicles, rather than create a new set of rules….
The (proposed ride-service ordinance) would require the companies to register with the city and pay an annual $25,000 licensing fee, as well as $25 per driver with their service. It would also subject the companies to the city’s ground transportation tax — $3.50 per day, per vehicle, for each day that the vehicle is used in Chicago for ground transportation. Additionally, the vehicles would have to display signage or an emblem that identifies their ridesharing service, and would have to be inspected annually by the city.
But perhaps the most significant cost that the rules would require are general commercial liability insurance and commercial automobile liability insurance policies of $1 million per occurrence.
Dallas Business Journal (Feb 19) Dallas’ transportation-for-hire task force rejected a proposed limitation on drivers’ hours that was being considered for the ordinance regulating taxis, limos and other car services…. Task force Chair Sandy Greyson said the group was considering a limitation comparable to other nearby cities, but unanimously agreed that the idea was not for Dallas.
Dallas Morning News (Feb 25) “We’re gonna fight to stay there,” (Lyft CEO John Zimmer) says. “There are thousands of drivers and passengers in Dallas and across the country that believe in this mission and movement, and we’ll be there alongside them to make sure we work together in a responsible and thoughtful way with local officials and defend their right to do this….”
Meanwhile, Lyft isn’t waiting for anything: In recent days it has expanded its local coverage area, stretching from Farmers Branch to Duncanville to Pleasant Grove to Garland, or thereabouts. Zimmer says that was a “organic expansion” based on data provided by Lyft’s app. There are a handful of hot spots, he notes, around Lower Greenville and Uptown and downtown, but Lyft’s seeing a lot of use all over, so it made sense to recruit more drivers and widen the area in which rides are being shared.
Denver Post (Feb 11) The Senate Business, Labor and Technology committee on Tuesday approved a bill that would lightly regulate ride-sharing companies such as Lyft and UberX …. Senate Bill 125 would classify Lyft and UberX as transportation network companies, or TNCs, and place them under limited PUC oversight. Lyft and UberX have developed smartphone apps that connect passengers with drivers, who use their personal cars for the ride …. Colorado regulators and lawmakers say that if a ride-sharing measure isn’t passed, the companies would be forced to shut down.
Detroit Free Press (Feb 16) In Detroit, state and local police have the go-ahead to ticket Uber drivers who, intentionally or not, failed to get licensed as a driver for hire, officials told the Free Press. Penalties for unlicensed operations run from a fine up to $500 to jail time. The city said officers have not issued any tickets yet ….
(R)epresentatives for the Michigan Department of Transportation and the City of Detroit told the Free Press that they still consider UberX as drivers for hire under the law because they charge customers for rides. Those drivers must therefore obtain a $300 Certificate of Authority from the state and a $110 limo operator’s license from the Detroit Police Department, which would inspect their vehicle.
Uber Technologies is also required to register with MDOT as a limo carrier, which it has not done, according to Sharon Edgar, MDOT administrator in the office of passenger transportation. Edgar said she sent a noncompliance notice in December to Uber’s Detroit office but hasn’t heard back. White, when asked in an e-mail, did not address the state notice.
WXYZ (Feb 18) Detroit City Attorney Melvin Butch Hollowell (says) UberX is not following city licensing requirements and Hollowell is issuing a cease and desist order.
Houston Business Journal (Feb 25) Unless Mayor Annise Parker decides to voluntarily put new vehicle-for-hire ordinances on the city council agenda, Tina Paez, the director of the Administration & Regulatory Affairs department, said it is most likely that discussions regarding new ordinances will continue at the committee meeting next month.
This probably isn’t welcome news for Uber Technologies Inc. and Lyft, which launched some of their services for free, as a promotion, last week.
Unless the companies, which are offering free rides to customers who request ride services from their apps, plan to continue offering free rides for the next month, this could cause some trouble. If the companies ask for payment or donations for their rides, the city said it will charge drivers with violating city ordinances and it will charge them penalties of up to $500.
Already, the city confirmed that there has been one instance where a Lyft driver charged a rider for a ride, and the city charged the driver with three different violations.
Houston Press (March 3) Some 10,000 Houstonians signed an online petition in support of (Uber), the most vocal of whom are young, urbanites who are strong supporters of the technological aspects of the service.
What was the city’s response?
Apparently, the city is tired of having its inbox filled up with Uber petition signatures because it issued a cease and desist to the folks at Uber asking Uber to stop the flow of petition e-mails to city mailboxes
St. Paul Pioneer Press (Feb 28) Taxi-like car-sharing service Lyft has launched a multi-city free-ride deal that just happens to get it out of hot water with the City of Minneapolis — at least for the next two weeks.
Lyft, consisting of driver-owned vehicles that customers summon with smartphone apps, said it will pick up the tab for rides costing up to $25 apiece.
The promotion temporarily defuses a disagreement with Minneapolis officials, who have insisted that Lyft be licensed like a taxi service, something this and similar services adamantly oppose….
Minneapolis had threatened to ticket and tow Lyft vehicles once they began operating Thursday as scheduled, but now said it will hold off if money isn’t changing hands.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Feb 19) Mayor Bill Peduto wants the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to change its rules to allow for ride-sharing operations in Pittsburgh. “As mayor, I support the expansion of transportation options in our city and recognize the need for a broader and more diverse suite of options to get people around town quickly, safely, and reliably,” Mr. Peduto wrote in a letter to PUC executive director Jan Freeman on Tuesday. “This includes these new companies but it also includes legacy jitney drivers who serve communities that have been red-lined out of traditional taxicab and limousine service….”
Mr. Peduto and Councilman Dan Gilman said Tuesday that they propose amending Chapter 29 of the PUC code to create a new class of regulated transportation service providers.
That would be akin to what the California Public Utilities Commission did in September, when it created a new class of business known as a Transportation Network Company.
Seattle Times (Feb 28) A majority of Seattle City Council members approved a cap on the number of drivers for Lyft, uberX and Sidecar at a standing-room-only taxi-committee meeting Thursday night …. If the proposal passes a full council vote next month, it would allow an unlimited number of drivers, but no more than 150 of them, using their personal cars, could work at any given time for each company. The measure would take effect a month after Mayor Ed Murray signs it.
Each prospective driver would have to apply for a Transportation Network Company (TNC) permit. In order to get it, drivers would have to take driver-safety training, but it would be less intensive than the for-hire training that taxi and flat-rate car drivers are required to take.
Under the earlier proposal, which did not pass, the taxi committee had recommended a cap of 300 TNC-permitted drivers who could contract with Lyft, uberX and Sidecar. All 300 of those drivers could choose which company they want to work for.