Cabbies vs. rideshare firms: Does your city have a game plan?

Wed, 2014-02-19 06:00 -- Liz Enbysk

Lyft cars sport pink mustachesThere are mixed reactions to the arrival in Pittsburgh of two rideshare companies – San Francisco-based Lyft and Uber. Their model is to enlist drivers who use their own vehicles to provide taxi-like services, connecting with riders via smartphone apps.

It's no surprise taxi companies aren't happy. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports cabbies are appealing to the Pennsylvania Utility Commission to make the unlicensed services illegal in the city. They say the rideshare companies are trying to fly under the radar without the "certificate of public convenience" that taxis and limos are required to have.

It appears at least some representatives of the PUC are siding with the cab companies. But according to the Post-Gazette account, the word from city hall is Mayor Bill Peduto supports having the rideshare companies compete with taxi services and would not favor an outright ban.

According to its website, Lyft currently operates in 20 cities around the U.S., from Atlanta to Seattle. Its cars are easily identifiable with bright pink mustaches attached to the front grill. Uber, meanwhile, lists three dozen cities where it operates in North America and 26 countries around the world. There are a number of other companies providing similar services.

Clearly other cities have already wrestled with cabbie wars and, according to an article that appeared last fall in Pew Stateline, the upstart rideshare companies have held their own, with some significant victories with state regulators.

A big win came in California, where the state PUC not only approved regulations giving rideshare companies the green light, but also prevent individual cities from banning the services. California essentially created a new category of business for rideshare firms -- the Transportation Network Company.

And regulators did set out specific requirements. As Pew Stateline reports, "Under the new California rules, the companies must insure their drivers, train and perform criminal background checks on drivers, enforce a zero-tolerance policy for intoxicated drivers, monitor drivers’ traffic offenses and ensure that drivers have their vehicles inspected every year."

But it's been tougher going for rideshare companies in other cities, with forced shutdowns, courtroom drama and the like. Xconomy.com details some of the trials and tribulations that have occurred in Boston and New York City as these smart alternatives try to establish a role in the transit mix.

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