Virginia DMV Gives Rideshares Greenlight While Regulations Gel

The department reviewed how well Lyft and Uber were complying with the terms of an agreement that gave them temporary rules until legislators could consider permanent regulations.

by Dave Forster, The Virginian-Pilot / February 9, 2015
The two companies operated outside the law in Virginia for months last year until Gov. Terry McAuliffe (pictured) and Attorney General Mark Herring announced an agreement in August that gave them a set of rules until legislators could consider permanent regulations. Flickr/Chesapeake Bay Program

(TNS) -- A monthslong regulatory review of Lyft, Uber and their drivers found the app-based ride services falling short in several areas, but the Virginia DMV called the results "largely positive," and the companies may continue operating until permanent rules become law.

Among the findings: Lyft didn't provide enough evidence to show it is complying with the state's criminal background check requirements on drivers; Uber drivers handled their phones while operating vehicles; and some drivers didn't know how to access either company's insurance information.

DMV spokeswoman Brandy Brubaker said by email that the review, which the agency released to The Virginian-Pilot, did not find public safety problems that would have raised concerns about the companies' continued operation. The statement said the agency is confident the minor problems can be solved.

Lyft and Uber are part of a growing trend in transportation in which drivers use their personal vehicles to provide trips and mobile apps are used to arrange the rides and exchange payment.

The two companies operated outside the law in Virginia for months last year until Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Attorney General Mark Herring announced an agreement in August that gave them a set of rules until legislators could consider permanent regulations.

The Department of Motor Vehicles started its review in October to see how well Lyft and Uber were complying with the terms of that temporary agreement. It found several more shortcomings for Lyft than it did for Uber.

The review said Lyft did not respond fast enough to requests for information and did not maintain its records in a quickly accessible way; it did not show evidence that its criminal history reports on drivers included detailed conviction information; and its mobile app did not consistently show a photograph of the driver's license plate number, as required.

The review said a driver for Uber tried to engage in "off app activity" with a DMV law enforcement agent. Soliciting or accepting customers on the street is forbidden.

Drivers for Lyft and Uber also were not consistently displaying their companies' vehicle markings to identify themselves to the public, according to the review. And neither firm provided documents to prove that employees immediately inform the company if they are charged with a driving offense or a crime that would require a sexual offender registration, though each notes that requirement on its website, according to the review.

Bills to regulate the companies and others like them passed the House and Senate in recent weeks. The legislation is awaiting the governor's signature, according to the DMV.

The taxi industry has been a major critic of the new competitors, saying Lyft and Uber don't have to abide by the same costly regulations as cab companies and their drivers. Frank Azzalina, director of business development for Hampton Roads Transportation, the region's largest taxi dispatcher, said Saturday that their business is doing "better than ever."

He said that's due in part to the dispatcher's own mobile platform, App-A-Cab, which launched a about a year ago and has grown beyond expectations, with 13,000 downloads.

©2015 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)