Battle between Lyft, Uber, and PTC means bumpy ride - FOX 13 News

Battle between Lyft, Uber, and PTC means bumpy ride for consumers

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  • Ride-sharing vs. taxi battle plays out in courtroom

    Ride-sharing vs. taxi battle plays out in courtroom

    Thursday, August 28 2014 10:58 PM EDT2014-08-29 02:58:09 GMT
    A local man charged for driving for the ride-sharing service Lyft clashes with a taxi cab operator in court. Despite the fine, the driver says he won't stop, and there are many just like him driving for Uber or Lyft who feel the same way.
    A local man charged for driving for the ride-sharing service Lyft clashes with a taxi cab operator in court. Despite the fine, the driver says he won't stop, and there are many just like him driving for Uber or Lyft who feel the same way.
TAMPA (FOX 13) -

Greg Amato knows where to grab a good beer and where to grab a ride back.

"I just call Uber. I leave my car at home," he said.

Calling a cab for some folks is so old school, according to Greg.

"I know there's been a plethora of times, I've been on Howard or somewhere else and they just deny my fare," Greg explained.

Greg loves the high-tech, convenient, cost-effective and comfortable option of app-driven ridesharing services.

"I know exactly when it's gonna come. I take a look at the app, I can literally see it tracking to my location," he said.

A nice clean vehicle with a friendly driver named Tim pulled up. After grabbing Greg a nice cold bottle of water, Tim began the Uber ride.

"The drivers are really friendly," Greg commented as he carried on a conversation with Tim.

However, the reception from the cab industry has been not so friendly.

Greg said that's not surprising. "I think they've awakened a slumbering giant of a service industry that has been stagnating for who knows how long."

The Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission has one word for Uber and Lyft -- lawbreakers.

Kyle Cockream, the executive director, has been conducting talks with both companies for a few months now.

"You know, drug dealers don't come in and go to the mouth of Tampa Bay and go to the Tampa Police Department or the Sheriff's Office and go, 'You know what? Your cocaine laws don't quite fit my business model, so we're gonna go ahead and bring cocaine in here. We're just gonna operate.' Yeah, we'll see how that works out," Cockream said

The PTC said Lyft and Uber drivers don't go through stringent background checks like cab drivers. However, both ridesharing companies say their own background checks are even better.

Billy Guernier, general manager for Uber in Tampa, explained, "Our background checks go back seven years. We include a multi-state, federal, and county check, but we also check their vehicle records as well as the national sex offender registry."

Another major point of contention is insurance coverage.

"Our policy is a primary policy. Whenever a trip is happening, up to a million dollars per incident, which is three times more of what is required from a taxi in Florida," Guernier explained.

However, Lynne McChristian, a Florida representative for the Insurance Information Institute, which is an independent non-profit insurance group, said no matter what these ridesharing services claim, they are operating beyond what is covered with a simple personal insurance policy.

"You may have to have a commercial policy or insurance companies are now offering some specialty products just to satisfy people who want to get into the ridesharing mode," she said.

Rules and regulations are playing catch-up to technology-driven businesses.

"We're having very productive conversations with Lyft," Cockream said.

However, talks with Uber are not going so well, he conceded.

"We say Uber is beyond arrogance," Cockream explained, "That's moving a lot slower."

Meanwhile, the PTC keeps slapping rideshare drivers with $800 fines while looking at cities like New York, where Uber and Lyft are basically operating under the same rules and regulations as cab drivers.

As the president of the International Association of Transportation Regulators, Matthew Daus ensures those rules are followed.

"Hillsborough County needs to apply the New York model. Get licensed. Hold their feet to the fire. If they see that their cars will be towed and they see that there will be ramifications, they will comply and will get their licensing like everybody else and then the issue goes away. They'll compete fairly, and if the taxi industry can't handle it, let them go under," he said.

Some argue those rules and regulations are as outdated as the idea of hailing a cab on the side of the road.

"Are they there to protect us or are they there to stifle innovation and gear it towards one specific service industry?" asked Greg.

It's an industry that's changing no matter how you look at it. Greg and his Uber driver Tim are happy to go along for the ride.

Lyft declined our requests for an on-camera interview; however, they did answer some questions in writing. It's a heated debate, not only between the PTC and the ridesharing services, but also between Lyft and Uber themselves.

Here's a series of our questions, along with responses from Lyft, Uber, and the PTC.

QUESTION: The PTC told us that your current insurance policy will not be valid if a driver gets into a crash because insurance companies have stated that a personal liability policy cannot be used by someone who is operating the vehicle in a commercial manner. At this time, the insurance companies say that ridesharing services such as yours fall under commercial. What is your response? Will your drivers get into a crash only to learn that they will not be covered?

Lyft response:
To correct misinformation about how Lyft's insurance works - Drivers and passengers are covered by Lyft's $1 million commercial liability insurance policy while matched on the platform. Lyft's commercial liability insurance is also now primary to a driver's personal policy. Millions of rides later, the insurance coverage Lyft provides has worked as designed and has provided excellent coverage for the community.

Uber response:
All rides on the Uber platform are backed by our best-in-class corporate insurance policy. From the moment a driver accepts a trip to conclusion, primary liability coverage is in place and applies up to $1 million coverage per incident - which is more than 3x the requirement of taxis in Florida.

PTC response:
Since March 2014 the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission has requested Lyft to submit their insurance policy to the Florida Insurance Commissioner's Office for review. To date, this has not been done. To say that "the insurance coverage Lyft provides has worked as designed and has provided excellent coverage for the community" is purely and completely subjective opinion. I have requested a far more academic and unbiased opinion about this issue, simply have the policy reviewed by independent sources who are in the insurance business. Therefore, in submitting to this process it simply removes the opinion of the PTC and Lyft.

QUESTION: What is your company doing to work within the rules and regulations that it is currently not in compliance with?

Lyft response:
Existing regulations for taxis were developed before a peer-to-peer model like Lyft's could ever be conceptualized. For example, Lyft does not own vehicles or employ drivers - Lyft drivers are not professional drivers and use their own cars, that they use primarily for personal use, to drive when they have the time. As a result, trying to fit Lyft into the existing model is like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. We have been in conversation with local leaders about Lyft's unique model and commitment to safety, and look forward to finding a solution that allows ridesharing to thrive in Tampa.

Uber response:
First and foremost, Uber is a technology company, not a transportation company. We connect riders and drivers to deliver safe, reliable and affordable transportation options through a smartphone application. If the laws haven't conceived of Uber's model, we'll work with policymakers and regulators to modernize regulations for this new paradigm.

PTC response:
The above statement is completely false. 1) Who pays the Lyft driver? Lyft drivers receive payment from Lyft, not the passenger. All money transactions are routed through Lyft, no money goes from the passenger to the driver without going through Lyft. Therefore, simple logic can be applied as to who is paying the drivers. 2) They are professional drivers because they are being paid to provide a service. I would employ anyone reading this to look up the definition of "professional". 3) The "square peg in a round hole" analogy is Lyft's way of saying "it doesn't fit OUR business model". There currently exists a path for Transportation Network Companies to become legal. The PTC has outlined that path, and agreed to streamline the process in order to assist drivers with this issue and welcome them and TNCs into the Tampa Bay area. If it doesn't work, why has Lyft complied and found a way to make it work in New York City?

QUESTION: Why are there different sets of rules as to how your company is operating in different cities. For example, if you're basically operating as a taxi service in New York City, within the rules and regulations of the authorities there, why then are you not doing the same thing in every other city? And if you follow that model, are you any different than the taxi companies? Is that the direction your company is heading towards?

Lyft response:
Cities and states across the country have worked to update their regulations and authorize Lyft's peer-to-peer model, including California, Colorado, Detroit, Minneapolis and Seattle; a similar approval process just got underway in Miami. Lyft is committed to its peer-to-peer model, and we will continue to work with New York City and state leaders to find a permanent home for ridesharing in New York.

Uber response:
The Uber platform facilitates an efficient, reliable way to move around cities at the touch of button. We're focused on providing the best possible experience for riders and drivers. Our platform offers a variety of options in different cities for riders to choose the most convenient, reliable ride at the most affordable price. In NYC alone we offer UberBLACk - our hallmark luxury service, UberSUV - luxury service with seats up to 6, uberX - our low cost offering, and uberTAXI - connecting users to a DC taxi at metered rates.

PTC response:
Independent research will clarify that while in many cities and states (as noted above) government officials are trying to work with these TNCs, they have not yet completely legalized them to operate. For example, California has pending legislation attempting to address the lack of insurance coverage offered by TNCs (http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/13-14/bill/asm/ab_2251-2300/ab_2293_bill_20140702_amended_sen_v94.htm). It is completely false that "a similar approval process just got underway in Miami". A Miami Council member introduced an ordinance. That ordinance has been placed under review, and has had no movement since being placed there. Anyone can introduce an ordinance, by no means does that indicate that Miami is in any sort of "approval process".

QUESTION: The PTC fingerprints taxi drivers for background checks. Your company does not. They claim that their background checks, therefore, are far superior to yours. Is this the case? How can someone be sure that your drivers have the same type of background check?

Lyft response:
Lyft's background checks are more comprehensive, more technically advanced and less susceptible to human error than a fingerprint-based background check. The checks include a social security number trace, a county criminal record check, an enhanced nationwide criminal search, and a Department of Justice 50-state sex offender search. We also have a zero-tolerance drug & alcohol policy along with a 24/7 support line available for both passengers and drivers in order to provide the highest level of safety for the Lyft community.

Lyft also has extremely strict, rigorous criteria for its background checks, to ensure the highest level of safety for the community. These criteria are outlined below, and at https://www.lyft.com/safety.

Driving Record Check:

Aged 21 or older, with an active U.S. driver's license for 1+ years

Valid personal auto insurance that meets or exceeds state requirements

No more than two moving violations in the past three years (e.g. accidents, traffic light violations)

No major violations in the past three years (e.g. driving on a suspended license, speeding 21+ mph over the limit)

No DUIs or other drug-related driving violations

No more than one severe infraction on your lifetime driving history

No extreme infractions on your lifetime driving history (e.g. hit-and-run, felonies involving a vehicle)

These are extremely subjective adjectives. Who gauges the application or interpretation of these categories? Is required to be made public?

Background Check:

No violent crimes

No sexual offenses

No theft

No property damage

No felonies

No drug related offenses

Uber Response:
Uber offers a variety of safeguards to connect riders to the safest rides on the road. All Uber driver partners must go through a rigorous three-step background check which includes county, federal and multi-state checks. Unlike the taxi industry, our background checking process and standards are consistent across the United States and used throughout all Uber products including uberX. In fact, our standards are often more rigorous than what is required to become a taxi driver.

All drivers are screened against:

County courthouse records going back 7 years for every county of residence

Federal courthouse records going back 7 years

Multi-State Criminal Database going back 7 years

National Sex Offender Registry screen

Social Security Trace (lifetime)

Motor Vehicle Records (historical and ongoing)

Drivers must pass also meet the following criteria:

No convictions for violent crimes, sexual offenses, or felonies in the past 7 years

No convictions of theft or property damage in the past 7 years

No drug or DUI charges in the past 7 years

No severe driving violations such as hit-and-run, driving over 100 mph, driving on a suspended/revoked license, or driving on the wrong side of a divided highway

No driving without insurance or suspended license charge in the past 3 years

Screening for safe drivers is just the beginning of our safety efforts. Our process also includes prospective and regular checks of drivers' motor vehicle records to ensure ongoing safe driving. Riders also always have the option to rate every driver and contribute to the quality of the ride with feedback to ensure we're partnering with the best transportation providers. There is also full transparency when requesting a ride on the Uber platform. A rider sees a driver's photo, name, phone number and ETA - a rider can even watch the driver on a map travel to his/her locations. Overall, riding with Uber is seamless from start to finish - the credit card on file is automatically charged at the end of the ride, so there is no need to carry cash or pay the driver at the end of the ride. Riders received detailed email receipts after each ride that illustrates the route and the breakdown of their fare.

PTC response:
If Lyft's first statement is true, then why doesn't the FBI, CIA, DEA, or any other law enforcement agency utilize this process? This statement too is completely false. I would recommend anyone reading this to independently check with a law enforcement agency to validate or invalidate Lyft's statement to this issue. Across the country, hundreds of people are arrested under an alias/stolen identity. That's why law enforcement fingerprints everyone booked into jail, because it's the only true way to identify the individual being booked. The Lyft background check does not include a comprehensive " a county criminal record check" as stated above. The agency hired to conduct background checks for Lyft does not have access to "county criminal records". (Once again, check this yourself.) I'm not really sure what "enhance nationwide criminal search" means. Does that mean you Google it twice? The DOJ sex offender search only means that they went to the DOJ web site and checked. In many cases, this data base does not include local and state convictions, which the PTC checks. Lyft does not have a zero tolerance drug & alcohol policy. The PTC issued civil citations to illegal Lyft & Uber drivers recently. One driver out of the three stopped did not have a valid Florida DL. If the company cannot validate the DL, how can they possibly validate drug or alcohol use?

The problem with this criteria is that it is established, altered, and applied by the employing company. Or is it? Currently, there is no way to tell. As a regulatory agency, the PTC must comply with the Florida Administrative Procedures Act. Included in the FAPA is the stipulation that meetings be held in public. Lyft does not hold public meetings when assessing drivers, appeals, or anything else for that matter. The items listed under "Background Check" are very misleading. The presentation leads the reader to believe that Lyft is thorough, and detailed. However, in almost every state, all of these categories fall under the classification of Felony. It is another example of the company attempting to paint a picture that there background checks are something special, or even valid. Most regulatory agencies simply classify disqualifiers as "Felonies". If the PTC (or any other regulatory agency) wanted to play the smoke and mirror game, it could list well over 100 crimes that fall into the category of felony, and simply state that their BG check is extremely thorough because it disqualifies drivers if they have committed any of the over 100 listed criminal offenses.

The attached document authored by Lyft is very misleading, and believed to intentionally be so. For example; Rule 1-5.001 has 25 different sections/paragraphs to address the issuance of Public Vehicle Driver's Licenses. Lyft conveniently captures portions of verbiage from the rule in order to once again manipulate the issue.

Lyft claims that:

2. Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission (PTC) Rule 1-5.001 "Public Vehicle Driver's License"

*The Commission may deny a license for a conviction of an indicated crime or traffic violation

The word "may" is used because;

1) An "indicated crime" could be a misdemeanor shoplifting that occurred 20 years ago. The PTC feels that this type of violation that may have occurred 20 years ago should not automatically disqualify a PVDL applicant.

2) A "traffic violation" is very broad. A minor offense that occurred many years ago by a person who has no other infractions should be considered and not automatically screened out.

*The director may, for good cause, issue 7-day temporary licenses, renewable for up to 28 days, without Commission approval, notice, or public hearing.

This statement is cut from a section that is designed to address Public Vehicle Driver's Licenses issued for special events such as the Super Bowl, or the Republic National Convention. The same background check is completed for this type of PVDL applicant, yet the license is temporary.

Lyft claims that "Drivers screened out for DUI conviction in the past 7 years".

PTC Rule 1-5.001

Lyft claims to conduct vehicle inspections. Who conducts these alleged vehicle inspections and is there any documentation related to the inspectors ability, certification, or training

PTC Rule

Vehicles are not mechanically inspected by PTC Inspectors. The vehicles are inspected by certified mechanics, who issue a certificate of verification. Public safety is extremely important to the PTC, and we feel that only a certified mechanic should validate the mechanical safety of a vehicle.

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