From California to Florida, city and state officials are debating how to regulate ride-sharing services.
In Seattle, GeekWire has been following the subject closely as these hybrid taxi services and technology companies butt heads with traditional cab companies.
On Monday, the Seattle city council will vote on whether to cap the number of drivers that can be on the road at any given time for UberX, Lyft and Sidecar. Meanwhile, at the state level, Washington is taking a wait-and-see approach.
With the upcoming vote, we were curious how Seattle compared to other markets. As you’ll see in the list below, the city is not alone: These ride-sharing start-ups are dealing with a patchwork of potential regulations around the globe.
Some municipalities are targeting the more formal town car services, provided by Uber, while others are finding more problems with UberX, Lyft and Sidecar, which use private vehicles to transport riders.
In more than one market, officials want Uber to be categorized as a limousine service, which means they are required to charge more, and in at least one circumstance, would be required to book 30 minutes in advance (that totally defeats the purpose of booking on-demand from a smartphone). For less formal services, insurance seems to be a key sticking point. Others are pursuing all-out bans, although few are considering capping the number of drivers, like Seattle.
Watching these battles play out is particularly interesting since most tech companies avoid dealing with regulatory bodies until they are large enough to attract the Justice Department’s attention.
One way they are dealing with it is by having big war chests. Lyft is currently in the process of concluding a funding round, totaling $150 million. Last summer, Uber raised $250 million, and in distant third, Sidecar secured $10 million.
So far, these services have kept lobbying costs low by relying on social media channels and outspoken fans of the service to sway public debate. In Seattle, the Seahawks and Macklemore rallied behind them, and Change.org has registered six current and past petitions in support of Uber alone in D.C., Jacksonville, Nashville, Chicago, Colorado and Houston.
By no means is this an exhaustive list, but here’s a snapshot of the various battles ride-sharing companies are facing:
— Dallas, Texas: At issue is how the city defines cabdrivers and limo operators; police regularly cite Uber drivers for violating a city code that regulates who can operate as a limo drier. One city council proposal would require, among other things, for rides to be arranged at least 30 minutes before service. [The Dallas Morning News]
— Austin, Texas: Sidecar left town last year, after the city threatened to impound ride-sharing cars over insurance concerns. Last week, the Austin Police Department warned SXSW attendees that they may be inadvertently breaking the law by accepting an Uber ride during the festival. [Reuters and GeekWire]
— Jacksonville, Fla.: The city council green-lighted Uber’s services after approving legislation, which would not require riders to have to book the service at least a half-hour in advance. [The Florida Times-Union]
— State of California: The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has voted to regulate ride-sharing companies, the first state to do so. The rules require companies to obtain a license from CPUC, conduct criminal background checks, establish a driver training program, and hold a commercial insurance policy with a minimum of $1 million per-incident coverage. [TechCrunch]
— Minneapolis: Lyft began operating in the city despite a city prohibition on the unlicensed service. The city says that the service needs to hold the same licenses as a taxi, and has threatened to ticket and impound drivers’ vehicles if they collect money (currently rides are free). [The Minneapolis Star-Tribune]
— Nashville, Tenn.: City officials are considering legislation that would address concerns around insurance issues and liability, the safety of personal vehicles, background checks and the vetting of drivers. Uber’s towncar service, however, got the OK to operate in previous legislation. [Nashville Business Journal.]
— Chicago: Nothing formal yet, but Mayor Rahm Emanuel and city council are debating what to do. Emanuel says ride-sharing companies should be required to obtain insurance; administer drug tests to drivers; conduct regular background checks; and that vehicles pass an annual, 21-point inspection. But he’s against regulating fares. [The Chicago Sun-Times.]
— Brussels: International problems also exist, with two Uber drivers seeing their vehicles seized after participating in the UberPOP service, which encourages drivers to shuttle people around in their private vehicles. [tech.eu]