The popular rideshare companies Uber and Lyft have been forced to do battle for the right to do business against overzealous bureaucrats and antiquated livery regulations in cities, counties, and states across the US. A recent dust-up with Virginia regulators ended in victory, as the state backed off its cease and desist order against the innovative start-ups. Rideshare services have quickly become an excellent source of part-time employment for people struggling to find jobs and may be reducing drunk driving fatalities, both of which, it would seem, help politicians meet policy goals.
However, WREG-TV is reporting that Memphis city officials, responding to complaints by local taxi drivers, are focusing their energies on enforcing out-of-date livery regulations that were designed long before the innovative technology behind Uber and Lyft existed, rather than trimming regulations to fit with modern business models. The City of Memphis has issued a cease-and-desist order against the rideshare companies, which Uber and Lyft intend to defy. However, in order to add teeth to the city’s threats, a police task force has reportedly been created to fine and arrest the companies’ drivers.
At issue are permits, vehicle inspections, and the associated fees that the city collects, which are a significant burden for part-time rideshare drivers. Aubrey Howard, chief official at the Memphis Permits department, told WREG-TV, “We are not attempting to curtail commerce. What we want is if they are going to do business here they have to follow the rules.” Reportedly, drivers caught working for Uber and Lyft could be arrested, fined up to $400, and face suspension of their driver’s licenses. “We think sending out a task force will make these companies move a little faster,” said Aubrey Howard at Memphis Permits, who confessed that the industry is evolving and may need updated laws. Memphis’ license administrator characterized the rideshare companies as “bullies.”
Taxi companies in the city currently have to pay for permits, vehicle inspections, and background checks, regulations which do hurt taxi drivers in a time in which rideshare companies are growing in popularity. Uber and Lyft have internal safety policies, which include vehicle inspections and higher insurance standards than the City of Memphis requires.
WREG-TV spoke to a local Uber and Lyft driver named VJ about the issue, who said she would defy the cease-and-desist order, “The letter went to Uber and Lyft. Not to us. So as far as I’m concerned Memphis hasn’t told me personally anything.” She also indicated that Uber is encouraging drivers to continue working despite the ban, “The only communication I’ve had is from Uber and they say we’ve got your back. They say they’ve been in this rodeo before… If [police] impound my car or ticket me I know I’m covered.”