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Calif. Regulators Challenge Rideshare Hotline for Seniors

California regulators have issued a $10,000 fine to GoGoGrandparent, a San Francisco-based startup that provides a toll-free number that people nationwide can use to request Uber and Lyft rides.

A rideshare-facilitating startup servicing senior citizens may finally see its almost year-long appeal of a $10,000 fine issued by the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) dismissed by the governing body.

GoGoGrandparent (GoGo) provides a toll-free number for people in the U.S. and Canada to call and request an Uber or Lyft. The startup uses software to interface with the rideshare apps and adds a 27-cents-per-minute fee that is tacked onto the fare.

The company, started by Justin Boogaard to help his grandmother order an Uber ride, has tens of thousands of users, most elderly or blind, and has made millions of ride requests. But, then in February the PUC slapped GoGo with a $10,000 fine and stated the company needed to apply for a permit as a for-hire transportation service.

To qualify for the permit, GoGo would need to secure “prohibitively expensive” liability insurance, turning over lists of all vehicles and drivers used, and other stipulations, according to a San Francisco Chronicle article.

“Our response was: That’s crazy,” Tom MacBride, GoGo’s lawyer, told the Chronicle. “GoGo is just helping the person order a ride; the rider is covered by Uber and Lyft insurance. The Legislature never intended to pigeonhole companies into regulations they can’t possibly comply with.”

MacBride said he took the case pro bono because it could have a far-reaching impact on similar services available through hospitals, senior centers, public agencies and other third-party ride coordinating groups or businesses.

Currently, both Uber and Lyft have programs available for organizations to arrange for clients’ rides, such as Uber Health, Uber Central, Lyft Concierge and Lyft Business for Healthcare.

Lyft Concierge has CareMore, CareLinx, National MedTrans Network, American Medical Response and Denver Health Hospital as clients, according to the Chronicle article. Uber described to the publication that Uber Health as an initiative allowing the company to partner with “health care organizations of all shapes and sizes to arrange transportation for both patients and caregivers.”

Following a June hearing of the GoGo case, PUC Administrative Law Judge Hallie Yacknin agreed with GoGo’ assertation that the company was not a transportation company in her August written decision. Yacknin went so far as to say the PUC’s claim that GoGo independently transported those using its service was “absurd.”

“There is no rational basis to require GoGo to maintain liability insurance as an additional source of compensation in the event of a passenger injury,” she wrote.

Yacknin’s decision was placed on the PUC consent agenda, which would have been adopted by the governing body without discussion. However, the GoGo ruling has been postponed three times and is now an item on the Dec. 5 consent agenda.

Drawing upon his 44 years of experience with PUC cases, MacBride said successive postponement is a rarity for citations and usually an occurrence in rate-setting or policy matters. He told the Chronicle that he thinks the holds may be the result of requests to the commissioner from PUC staff, which would violate due process.

Boogaard said it’s the unknown that troubles him the most about the fate of his company.

“… Something is happening behind the scenes that in this case could spell doom for GoGo,” he told the Chronicle.

Patrick Groves was a staff writer for Government Technology from 2019 to 2020.