Ride-sharing is changing transportation habits in cities across the nation. Rather than hailing a taxicab on the street or calling a taxi company on the phone, more passengers are using smartphone apps to arrange rides from ride-sharing companies -- and they're paying for it through the mobile app, too. Though this convenience is seen as a positive for citizens, traditional taxicab companies disagree -- and many cities aren't quite sure how to handle it.
They're going to have to figure it out, though, because ride-sharing is quickly taking hold in metro areas. Ride-sharing firm Lyft in April launched service in 24 new cities in just 24 hours.
Some jurisdictions are tacking the issue. Take Chicago, for instance. On April 24, a proposal by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to impose some regulation on ride-sharing companies operating in the city was sent to a full city council vote (which is supposed to happen the evening of April 30), the Chicago Tribune reported.
The revised ordinance would subject companies whose drivers average more than 20 hours per person per week to stronger oversight, including requiring all drivers to obtain chauffeur’s licenses. Also according to the Tribune, the ordinance gives the city authority to cap “surge pricing” when there is peak demand, such as during rush hours. But critics say the ordinance lacks adequate consumer protections, and leaves it up to ride-share companies like Uber, Lyft and SideCar to police drivers and track their driving hours.
In St. Louis, Lyft is dealing with a temporary restraining order from the city's taxi commission, which cited public safety concerns because the company's drivers aren't vetted by the commission, the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported. Meanwhile, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay says the city is working with Lyft rival Uber on allowing that firm to operate legally in the city. Uber has "suggested a few changes to the regulations," Slay wrote in a prepared statement. "The company has led me to believe that if those changes were made, it would abide by the other 80 pages of regulations and would seek certification from the Commission."
Until yesterday," Slay added, "Lyft had not reached out to us, and then only following litigation instituted by the Taxicab Commission."
And in Pittsburgh, undercover Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) officers are using rideshare apps to catch Lyft and Uber drivers and issue them citations for operating without a license, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported. As of April 24, the PUC had issued 23 tickets to rideshare drivers for operating without state approval during the past month.
Lyft also has experienced trouble in Virginia, where the state Department of Motor Vehicles said the service defied state regulators when it expanded service into Hampton Roads during the week of April 21, the The Virginian-Pilot reported. By April 28, the DMV levied a $9,000 civil penalty against Lyft because the company has not applied for a broker's license to transport passengers in Virginia despite the DMV's attempts to inform Lyft of the requirement.
This year, Del. Ron Villanueva, R-Virginia Beach, introduced legislation that would relax certain regulations to accommodate the new ride-sharing businesses. The bill was continued for a year so the DMV could study the issue.
Ride-sharing firms also are having a rough ride in Columbus, Ohio, where the city filed a lawsuit against Lyft, and has requested a temporary restraining order to stop UberX from operating. According to the Columbus Dispatch, the city isn't opposed to the new mode of transportation -- it just says that UberX and Lyft should not operate until regulations are in place.
An editorial in the Chicago Tribune noted that the ordinance there is about protecting citizens while also giving citizens what they want -- more options for rides around town. That's what many other cities also appear to be doing, but such an undertaking requires a bit of time. And it is perhaps in the best interest of Lyft, Uber and SideCar to work with these jurisdictions to navigate this new era of transportation.