It looks like two of three hipster ride apps that have been told to leave town will defy the L.A. Department of Transportation's order and possibly have their drivers face arrest.
Both Lyft and Uber told the Weekly they will keep running in Los Angeles despite the LADOT's cease-and-desist order. The city tells us if the ride-app companies keep picking up passengers here, their drivers will be arrested, their cars will be impounded for 30 days, and punishment could reach up to six months in jail and $1,000 worth of fines:
Yep, according to the Department of Transportation, defying the orders makes drivers for the apps outlaws in city streets.
It's a high price for defiance. Thomas M. Drischler, the city taxicab administrator who sent cease-and-desist letters to Lyft, Uber and Sidecar on Monday, says he doesn't think the companies are being straight with their drivers about the seriousness of the situation:
They can look forward to having their drivers arrested. They're front and center for us.
In fact, Drischler said, the telltale pink mustache placed on the front of cars driven by Lyft drivers would be a dead giveaway that will help police track them down and arrested them.
Lyft and Uber argue they're legit because the state Public Utilities Commission has given them, along with Sidecar, temporary permission to operate in the state as limo-type companies, which aren't regulated by the city.
(A fourth online, ride-app service, the limo-like GroundLink, told the Weekly it has full permission from the state and city).
John Zimmer, co-founder of Lyft, tells the Weekly:
Our understanding is that we have this legal operating agreement for the entire state of California. Unless someone can demonstrate that's not the case, we will continue to operate.
The claim that we're bypassing all safety measures is just false. We have a more strict criteria than the state requires.
Zimmer says Lyft's drivers undergo background checks and must have more than enough insurance for passengers.
Andrew Noyes, a spokesman for Uber, argues that “the state trumps the city” when it comes to regulating ride services:
You can go on the sidewalk and push a button to get an UberX, but we're not a taxi service.
Drischler says Uber is the most legit of the three ride apps targeted. He said as long as they abide by the law, they're good. But he says Uber's drivers have been arrested four times in recent months for violating city taxi rules (more on that below).
The PUC will review its temporary permission to the ride apps next month and probably take a vote in August on whether to continue to let these services operate, says commission spokesman Terrie Prosper.
He said the ride-app services were not “approved” so much as tolerated temporarily. The city of L.A. can add its own regulations to the mix if it wants, he said, but the LADOT says it does not normally regulate state-approved limo services.
(Noyes of Uber disputes the claim that the city can regulate limos, citing a municipal code section that forbids local conflict with state rules).
As is, these companies, save for Urber, aren't otherwise legit under the PUC's normal rules, which call for commercial, dedicated vehicles (limo with those state TCP numbers on their bumpers) and other hoop-jumping.
Uber does use dedicated commercial vehicles, even though it has been busted locally for alleged taxi-rule violations. Drischler did not have details for the four Uber arrests in L.A. but said this is generally what happens:
They use undercover officers to approach somebody and say can you give me a ride. If they agree, they're busted.
That's because state-regulated limo rides must be prearranged, with “waybill” paperwork (name, destination) to prove it. Drischler indicated that, even with apps, this rule can be violated if the paperwork isn't present:
If the undercover asks for a ride through a phone app and if the driver who shows up hasn't followed a waybill, they're subject to arrest, too.
Uber says it can't control what each of its drivers do — they're not Uber employees. The cars aren't Uber cars, either.
Lyft matches everyday drivers with people who need rides via online apps. L.A taxi companies, of course, aren't too happy with all this freelance competition on the road. And that begs the question of whether the LADOT is simply carrying water for the powerful taxi lobby at City Hall.
Drischler's answer to that was, sort of, so what? The taxi companies invest a lot of money in adhering to city regulations only to see companies that don't come along with unfair competition, he said.
He noted that taxicab firms in L.A. must provide a certain number of wheelchair-accessible vehicles — 225 are on the road in the city — for customers. And 75 percent of L.A. taxis have to be hybrids by 2015, with conversion to that goal happening now.
“Let's talk about fair competition,” Drischler said. “That's a very substantial investment. L.A. cabs jump through a lot of hoops for the privilege of operating here. These ride-app companies are unaccountable.”