Tag Archives: Rideshare

Tuscaloosa, AL to Uber Drivers: Stop Driving or Face Arrest

Innovative, mobile app-based rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft have exploded in popularity across the US. They provide jobs for out-of-work or underemployed people with reliable cars and offer low-cost rides for those in need of transportation. Mothers Against Drunk Driving spokesperson J.T. Griffin offered support for rideshare companies, which, according to DUI arrest records, appear to reduce incidences of drunk driving, saying, “MADD supports new ridesharing platforms like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar as well as traditional taxi services that are enabling more options to provide safe rides in communities across the country.”

Considering the facts that rideshare companies create jobs, provide transportation options, and help keep drunk drivers off the road, one would think that politicians would be chomping at the bit to modernize vehicle-for-hire regulations in an effort to get Uber and Lyft moving in their towns. Instead, many officials in cities across the US have fought against rideshare companies and in some cases have even threatened to arrest drivers for trying to make ends meet through the platforms.

According to AL.com, the City of Tuscaloosa, AL, home to the University of Alabama, recently took its battle against Uber to the extreme and ordered Uber drivers to quit working or face arrest. On October 3, Uber representatives and city officials met in an attempt to resolve an ongoing regulatory dispute. Uber Tuscaloosa general manager Billy Guernier paraphrased what city employees said at the meeting in comments to AL.com, “The message was ‘Unless you guys are willing to cease operations and stop offering this valuable option to consumers, we will no longer work with you, we will no longer negotiate with you, and beginning on Wednesday, we will begin arresting drivers for working on the Uber platform.'”

City officials complain that Uber’s drivers are violating the town’s vehicle-for-hire regulations, which were written without Uber’s modernized business model in mind. Uber’s Billy Guernier has attempted to meet with Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox in an effort to negotiate regulatory tweaks that would satisfy both parties, but has not yet been granted a meeting. In fact, Guernier said that no elected officials from the city have met with Uber and that the city has only allowed the company to negotiate with bureaucrats who lack the power to make the kind of changes to the law that would be necessary when modernizing regulations to meet the needs of new technology.

Mayor Maddox told Tuscaloosa News, “I believe Uber needs to follow the standards that are set by a community and work in good faith with the people who are entrusted with making those decisions… But breaking the law is breaking the law. And whether you agree or disagree with it, the city has to enforce the rules on its books.”

Starting last Wednesday, drivers caught working for Uber will be arrested on misdemeanor charges for violating the town’s vehicle-for-hire ordinance. Tuscaloosa Police Department representative Sergeant Brent Blankley defended the city’s position to AL.com, “Since the day Uber announced they were coming to Tuscaloosa the city has been open and willing to work with them. The willingness to reach an agreement has seemed to be one-sided… The city has given Uber items that we would be willing to look into, but some of the things we will not change, such as [requiring] background checks, insurance and vehicle inspections, are for the safety of the passengers.”

In comments to Tuscaloosa News, Uber representative Taylor Bennett said, “The bottom line is Uber has set a new standard for safety and quality. Our industry-leading background checks, $1 million commercial liability insurance, and an unprecedented level of transparency and accountability built into the app make Uber the safest ride on the road.” He also told Alabama Watchdog, “Uber continues to be available in over 215 cities around the world, moving folks safely and reliably around town; at this time demand greatly exceeds supply in Tuscaloosa.”

Billy Guernier has urged Uber users in Tuscaloosa to contact their elected officials in an effort to end the crackdown on Uber drivers. He also indicated that the new policy, if it results in arrests, may force Uber to stop offering its services in Tuscaloosa, a busy university city which already suffers from limited transportation options. Said Guernier, “If the city is actually willing to arrest drivers, it would be clear to me that their interests are so backwards and their focus so far off of improving life in Tuscaloosa, I wouldn’t have any interest in working with them anymore. There are a lot of places that still need ride-sharing and still need UberX, and I’ll be happy to take it to them.”

Memphis Creates Task Force to Arrest, Fine Uber and Lyft Drivers

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.”

Virginia DMV to Uber, Lyft: ‘Cease and Desist’

With gas prices on the rise and a jobs crisis choking the economy, the popular, new, and innovative rideshare companies Uber and Lyft have been battling back against these economic issues by rapidly expanding to new markets, offering jobs with flexible scheduling to out-of-work folks with reliable cars, and introducing more transportation options for individuals in need of a ride. Since consumers can easily match up with local drivers through these services using a convenient smartphone app, rideshare companies also increase the number of sober rides available to people out drinking at bars, helping to reduce drunk driving fatalities.

However, Uber and Lyft have completely new business models that rely on technology that didn’t exist when most livery regulations were developed. As a result, the companies have had to battle onerous and antiquated regulations on a state-by-state and city-by-city level. In most jurisdictions, the companies have prevailed, but recent battles with Virginia’s state government have escalated and taken a turn for the worse. The Virginian-Pilot is reporting that, on Thursday, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles sent cease-and-desist letters to Uber and Lyft, asserting that the companies’ business models are out-of-step with state regulations. According to regulators, all drivers offering rides to the public must attain authorization from the state, except for in the case of rideshares. However, state law disallows rideshares from turning a profit in exchange for their activities.

Last April, the Virginia DMV issued a $9,000 penalty to Lyft and a $26,000 penalty to Uber for profiting on rideshares in violation of state law. The companies chose to appeal the fines and continue operating in the state. However, this new cease-and-desist order comes with a heavy-handed new threat: the DMV will expand its fines from targeting the companies in question to additionally targeting their largely cash-strapped drivers, who have been relying on income from the service to cover bills and feed their families.

Virginia’s Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Lane said of Uber and Lyft, “I actually like their business model in terms of giving more flexibility to the public, but there are some issues they need to work on and some laws that we need to change,” pointing out the need for policy changes to get state laws in line with rapidly changing trends in technology. However, these companies are already doing business in the state. Many Virginians are currently gainfully employed through them. Also, Uber and Lyft customers in the state have expressed concerns that too few taxis are available to deal with the community’s transportation needs.

According to NBC Washington, Uber representative Natalia Montalvo said of the order, “This decision is not in the best interest of Uber partners, who have been using the technology to make a living, create new jobs and contribute to the economy – or residents who rely on Uber for access to affordable, reliable transportation alternatives. We look forward to continuing to work with the Virginia DMV to find a permanent home for ride-sharing in the Commonwealth.” Lyft representative Chelsea Wilson noted, “Many of the current regulations surrounding taxis and limos were created before anything like Lyft’s peer-to-peer model was ever imagined.”

According to The Washington Post, both Uber and Lyft will continue operating in the state in defiance of the order. Virginia’s state government is conducting a study on web-based rideshare services and plans to publish a report sometime next year. However, this does little good for the companies’ current drivers, who already rely on rideshare income for survival.

Watch the below video for NBC Washington‘s video coverage on the issue.