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Seattle, Chicago Put the Screws to Lyft, UberX

| March 18, 2014
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A protester mocks ride service Lyft and its signature pink mustaches atcab driver rally outside San Francisco City Hall. (Alex Emslie/KQED)

A protester mocks ride service Lyft and its signature pink mustaches at cab driver rally outside San Francisco City Hall. (Alex Emslie/KQED)

The big news in the ride-service world today is that the Seattle City Council voted to cap the number of drivers that Lyft, UberX and Sidecar can put on the road. The legislation, which the city’s mayor, Ed Murray, has agreed to sign, limits each ride-service company to 150 drivers, or 450 total, in simultaneous operation. The Seattle Times reports the three companies, all based in San Francisco, together have 2,000 drivers in the city.

The legislation is a big setback for the ride-service firms. Some time ago, we here at KQED decided to use that term, “ride-services,” to describe these app-based ride-for-hire firms. That’s because the California Public Utilities Commission officially ruled that the term “ride-sharing,” which the companies still use, incorrectly describes these commercial enterprises. The CPUC officially calls them transportation network companies, or TNCs.

While that term is not as warm and fuzzy as “ride-sharing,” it’s better than “Spawns of Satan” (or SOS), the nomenclature recommended by the taxi industry.

Well, not really. But having talked to a few dozen cab industry folks over the last few months, I feel I can accurately report that a majority of them really do despise these tech upstarts. And I imagine that’s true across the country where, as in Seattle, a series of small wars has erupted in city after city as Lyft and Uber have taken root. In Chicago, for instance, the City Council recently sent subpoenas to ride-service firms, ordering them to turn over copies of their insurance policies.

Both sides in this conflict have their talking points. In San Francisco, where taxi service has been notoriously spotty, the TNCs, their fans and even some cab-industry folks say the taxi business has no one but itself to blame for the considerable loss of customers. Meanwhile, taxi interests contend the TNCs continue to enjoy a huge competitive advantage because of the relatively loose CPUC regulations they operate under, as opposed to the strict municipal rules with which taxis must contend.

This could change. On March 6, the San Francisco Chronicle reported, the CPUC warned Lyft, UberX (Uber’s TNC service), Sidecar and Wingz, two other ride-service companies, that they had 60 days to “complete deficiencies” in their applications to become officially certified. (They currently operate under a temporary order.) According to the Chron:

The most serious omission was information about how they inspect drivers’ vehicles. … The letter asked them to clarify:

  • Who is conducting the vehicle inspection?

  • What qualifications do they possess to conduct the inspection?

  • Any copies of contracts with outside vendors that may provide these services.

(You can read our own investigation here into safety and inspection issues at UberX.)

The CPUC has also said it will take stock of how well its TNC regulations are working in the fall.

Here’s a rundown of developments in different cities where regulatory skirmishes in the TNC war have flared recently.

Baltimore

The popular ride-share company Uber began urging Baltimore users this month to help “save” it, declaring that “Uber’s future in Maryland is in jeopardy.”

Uber launched the public relations campaign as state regulators waded into the same dispute that embroiled the company in other cities as it and other technology-based ride-sharing operations disrupt the local taxi market….

State lawmakers in Annapolis are considering how — and whether — to craft new regulations to oversee drivers who pick up riders through smartphone apps.

Baltimore Sun

 

Boulder

Uber — the popular, yet controversial, startup that brought its “e-hailing” ride-sharing service to Denver in 2012 — is weighing a broader push up the U.S. 36 corridor into Boulder.

Officials for the San Francisco-based company told the Daily Camera that they’re conducting a soft launch in Boulder, a tech startup-friendly city home to some high-profile advocates of the mobile app that allows users to secure a ride with an Uber-connected driver….

Uber has not contacted Boulder’s licensing department to inquire about operating in the city, said Sarah Huntley, a spokeswoman for the city of Boulder. A business such as Uber would need a business license, she said.

Boulder Daily Camera

 

Chicago

The three major for-profit ride-share companies operating virtually unregulated in Chicago face a Friday deadline to respond to subpoenas calling on them to turn over copies of their insurance policies, which critics contend fail to protect the public.

The subpoenas that the City Council sent this month to Uber X, Lyft and Sidecar came up during a state Senate Transportation Committee hearing Thursday in Chicago that focused on the “insurance gap” involving ride-share companies.

Insurance experts, some aldermen and taxicab companies that fear the industry is eroding their business have sounded alarms that ride-share customers don’t know how vulnerable they are for any medical or other expenses resulting from an accident involving a ride-share vehicle.

Unlike taxi drivers and cab companies, the ride-share firms are not required to submit their insurance policies to the city or the state, and they have not done so voluntarily, state and city officials said.

Chicago Tribune

 

Houston

The city of Houston’s administration and regulatory affairs, or ARA, department issued a safety warning yesterday for Lyft customers.

The warning urged Houstonians to question the safety of Lyft cars, which are distinguishable by their pink mustaches.

The warning could also could be the sign of another stumbling block and continuing delays in crafting new legislation to allow or deny Lyft and similar transportation services in Houston.

Houston Business Journal

 

Madison

Madison police have not issued any tickets to drivers from ride-sharing apps Lyft and Uber, who were active in the city over the weekend despite warnings from officials and threats of citations.

The Madison City Attorney’s Office issued a memorandum last week finding that the companies are operating as taxis, meaning they are violating city ordinances.

That led Madison police on Wednesday to ask the drivers to stop giving rides, saying they could face fines of hundreds of dollars.

 

Nashville

A loophole in Metro Nashville’s transportation law means drivers of popular ride-sharing services like Lyft and Uber could be issued citations for not having the proper permits to carry passengers, who pay for their rides.

According to Metro Code 6.74.100, all “for hire” passengers vehicles operating in Davidson County must have an “F” for hire endorsement on their license and commercial plates when carrying passengers.

As it stands, the Metro Transportation Licensing Commission is not currently issuing permits to drivers of cars services like Lyft and Uber mainly because county officials said they haven’t had a chance to draft legislation that properly regulates the new services.

NewsChannel5

 

Phoenix

Technology-driven ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft are battling Discount Cab and AAA Arizona at the Arizona Legislature over proposed industry and insurance rules.

The battle is over Arizona House Bill 2273 and what kind of insurance rules govern new ride-sharing businesses in comparison to taxis and other livery services. The ride-sharing businesses utilize smartphone and computer applications that allow those seeking rides to hook up with independent drivers.

Steve Thompson, general manager for San Francisco-based Uber’s Phoenix operations, said the Arizona bill puts state regulations and rules around his company’s business model including insurance and background checks it has for independent drivers.

Phoenix Business Journal

 

Tampa

When Lyft began advertising online recently for drivers in Tampa, the county’s taxi regulating agency noticed.

“We welcome your interest in the Tampa Bay area and the potential for expanded use of new innovative technologies in transportation services,” reads a letter sent Friday to the San Francisco-based ride-sharing service by the interim executive director of the Public Transportation Commission.

But Kevin Jackson continued: The PTC has the final word ….

Uber (said in 2012) that its experience with the PTC had dissuaded it from coming back here again.

Tampa Bay Times

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Category: Transportation

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  • http://Facebook.com/justus.aguy Just Aguy

    @chi1cabby #UberFraud
    The strong arm tactics, the “my way or the highway” approach, lack of transparency, obfuscation and dissembling that Uber has repeatedly engaged in, have become less effective over time. Regulators/lawmakers have become wise to all this and aren’t going to fooled and railroaded anymore! Even in California, a state where Uber has been operation the longest, the regulators are taking a second look at Uber and it’s operation.

    When someone engages a vehicle in COMMERCIAL CARRIER activity, s/he is REQUIRED to buy appropriate COMMERCIAL insurance! This isn’t about giving your aunt Minnie a ride to the hair salon. This is about transporting paying passengers, like a cab or a limo. And does Uber really expect the regulators to have no say on the matter? We have well established laws and regs that govern every aspect of commercial activity. Just because now “THERE IS AN APP FOR THAT” doesn’t mean that these well established laws needn’t apply!
    @chi1cabby #UberFraud

  • CA

    You can sign up right now with promo code “ubermeplease” and get $20 off your first UBER ride!

    http://uber.com/invite/ubermeplease

  • Gershon Mayer

    Apparently, UberX and Lyft blinked in the face of the Chicago City Council subpoenas because they announced on the day of the deadline that they had a new version of insurance coverage. I don’t know if they have produced it for examination by the Chicago City Council or the Illinois State Senate Transportation Committee, which is also investigating the issue. They may have bought more time to comply but so far nobody seems to have seen anything.

    Meanwhile there is legislation that’s been on the books for years which is not being enforced. I would think that if anything like the accidents in San Francisco occurs in Chicago, a smart attorney will sue the city as well as the alleged offender, i.e., the driver and Lyft or UberX.