The future is here and so the law must change.
That’s the sentiment at City Hall as Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and the City Council wrestle with legalizing so-called transportation network companies, such as Uber and Lyft.
Presently, Salt Lake City police are issuing $6,500 tickets — after three warnings — to Uber and Lyft drivers because they do not have commercial licenses that require adherence to city laws regarding such things as passenger safety, service standards and insurance.
Although a spokeswoman for Lyft could not be reached Wednesday, a company email said it would pay fines its drivers receive while working.
Nonetheless, city officials acknowledge that the new-age transportation service is different from a traditional taxi company — and the high-tech rideshare phenomenon is here to stay.
Uber and Lyft provide smartphone apps to connect people who want a ride with nearby drivers who use their own cars.
But an attorney who represents Salt Lake City’s Yellow Cab said rideshare undercuts cab companies, who by contract must provide a "sufficient" number of cabs around the clock for the public. Further, they cannot refuse a ride to anyone.
Neither of those regulations applies to Uber and Lyft, said Don Winder. Allowing those entities to operate without following the same regulations as cab companies eventually will lead to an overall decrease in transportation-service options as cab companies morph into rideshare operations.
"If the market is flooded, nobody can make money and quality of service declines," Winder said. "Who will be around at 2 a.m. to pick up that elderly person with a pain in the chest?"
Rideshare is expanding rapidly across the country and has caused transportation regulators to rethink policies, David Everitt, the mayor’s chief of staff, said in a memorandum to the council.
"Transportation network companies," Everitt said, "provide another choice to the public that makes car travel conveniently available to those who need it, while reducing the number of cars on the road."
Everitt suggested the council amend city ordinances to make way for the new transportation paradigm, while ensuring survival of traditional taxi companies. Uber and Lyft drivers, who use their own cars and are styled as independent contractors, could comply with many of the city’s regulations but they cannot observe the current 30-minute prearrangement requirement and $30 minimum required for limousine service, Everitt said.
In a preliminary discussion Tuesday, the council appeared ready to follow the mayor’s lead on finding a way to include commercial ridesharing among the city’s legal transportation options.
"Rideshare is a different animal, but we have to make sure everybody is operating under the same rules," said Council Chairman Charlie Luke. "We’re looking for a solution for rideshare companies as well as taxi companies. We’re taking a comprehensive approach."
Councilman Luke Garrott said that his first impression of such ridesharing services was disturbing.
But as he considered the transportation challenges and services in Salt Lake City he changed his mind.
"I was tied in knots about this," he said. "But now I see it as an opportunity."
The council will continue its discussion on transportation network companies at its Sept. 16 work session.
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