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San Antonio Police Chief Tells Lyft to Quit Operations

San Antonio says Lyft has not gone through the city's requirements to be a licensed cab driver or cab company.

Less than a week after the ride-sharing service Lyft launched in San Antonio, the city's police chief has told the company to cease operations because its drivers are not properly permitted.

San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said he sent “a very strongly worded cease and desist letter” to San Francisco-based Lyft on Wednesday. Company spokeswoman Katie Dally said the company had not received a letter as of Thursday morning.

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The company, which launched in the Alamo City on Friday night, matches drivers with passengers looking for a ride via a smart phone app.

Lyft has been operating as Lyft Pioneer in San Antonio, meaning passengers will not be charged for now.

To get a ride, a Lyft user downloads the smartphone app, then receives a text message, which says passengers can get 50 free rides in San Antonio (worth up to $25 each) for the next 15 days.

Lyft drivers are not licensed taxi or limo drivers. The drivers who sign up to work for Lyft must undergo a criminal background and driving background check, said Erin Simpson, Lyft's director of communication. They must also have their own car insurance policy, and Lyft's insurance will cover them up to $1 million. Passengers can rate their drivers, and drivers can do the same with passengers.

But McManus said that's not enough — they still aren't allowed to provide a taxi-like service.

“We don't know who the drivers are, what their background may be,” McManus said at a news conference Wednesday.

“Lyft might have all the insurance in the world, they may do all the background checks, but they are not permitted in the city by ordinance,” McManus said. “They have not gone through the requirements of the (city) ordinance to be a licensed cab driver or cab company.”

In an emailed response to questions about the cease and desist letter, Dally wrote that Lyft is “in an exploratory phase in San Antonio with Lyft Pioneer, a program that allows new users to take free rides on the Lyft platform. We've already seen a very positive response from San Antonio community members, who see Lyft as a safe, affordable and reliable transportation option.

“We've been impressed by city leaders' commitment to innovation and sustainability, which is why we believe San Antonio is a great fit for Lyft. We look forward to continuing conversations with the city around Lyft's peer-to-peer business model and rigorous safety standards that go above and beyond existing requirements for taxis and limos.”

©2014 the San Antonio Express-News
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