City to create task force to solve Lyft issue

Cab, limo companies want Lyft to play by same rules they do

By Cory Smith - VJ, Reporter

The San Antonio City Council's Public Safety Committee will recommend the city create a new working group to settle the ongoing dispute between Lyft and the city's other car-for-hire service providers.

The group will be made up of representatives from limousine and cab companies, officials from transportation network companies, and members of the Transportation Advisory Board.

They will have 60 days to decide whether to use current rules to regulate Lyft, or come up with an updated policy.

Lyft uses mobile technology to connect people who need a ride with drivers who have open seats in their cars. While it sounds very similar to a cab company, Lyft officials said the two are very different.

"Yes, we do provide transportation, but we do it in a completely new and innovative way by matching people with their empty seats in their cars with people in the community who are looking for rides," said Lyft Manager of Government Relations Joseph Okpaku.

Instead of using a dispatch service like a cab or taxi service, Lyft relies on smartphone technology, which is why officials consider Lyft a transportation network service not a car-for-hire company.

The perceived difference is the reason Lyft is asking the city to rewrite Chapter 33 of the City Code, which regulates taxi and limousine services, in order to allow Lyft drivers to legally operate in San Antonio.

"(Chapter 33) was written well before Lyft was around so we're in a bit of a regulatory gap," Okpaku said. "We're looking for a regulatory framework that acknowledges the fundamental differences between Lyft and other providers of ground transportation."

Local car-for-hire companies are asking the city to make Lyft play by the same rules, starting with paying to become a licensed and legal operation.

"We have a significant cost to be in business – permits, fees, inspections, driver's fees, vetting of the driver," said Yellow Cab President John Bouloubasis. "They have (to pay) nothing."

Bouloubasis said he welcomes the competition that Lyft provides, but he believes that the city should continue to enforce Chapter 33.

"Those rules and regulations took ten years to develop, and they're there for a reason - to protect the consumer," he said.

Lyft and Uber X, a similar app-based transportation provider, are currently operating in a number of cities. Dallas changed its city policies to allow Uber to operate. Austin has banned Lyft and Uber from operating, and a U.S. district judge allowed the two companies to continue to operate in Houston while a lawsuit is being settled.

San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said the department sometimes looks to other cities to help form a policy, but he said the varying responses to these transportation providers means officials will have to work harder to find what works best for San Antonio.

Okpaku said Seattle should be a model for San Antonio. He said city leaders there created a policy that benefited all parties.

In the meantime, McManus reiterated that a cease-and-desist order against Lyft is still in effect and any driver found operating in San Antonio faces a fine of up to $500 and could have their vehicle impounded.

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