The headlines hit big last week, that the Transportation Department in Los Angeles had issued cease-and-desist letters to the three biggest ride share app companies operating in the city — Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar.
The three companies immediately came out with statements saying that the order was without merit and that each had previously secured agreements with the California Public Utilities Commission to operate within the state.
A couple of nights after the order was issued, I wanted to see if they still might be offering rides. Since Sidecar and Lyft do not operate in my part of town in L.A., I opened the Uber app and saw a number of black cars on the screen. I punched in the order and was sent a confirmation text that the car was on its way. Total wait time — about 15 minutes.
I got into the back of a shiny black Cadillac Escalade. The chauffeur wore a suit and stowed away my guitar I was carrying. Drinking bottled water that was waiting in the back, I asked him about the cease-and-desist, and he said that it was only for the UberX feature.
I learned that the chauffeur has a business license for his transportation company and owns the vehicle he drives. He is registered with the CPUC and has a TCP number, as well as standard insurance covering up to $1 million. He works only for Uber, choosing the hours he wants to operate, and says he really enjoys it and is even a user himself when he is out with his friends.
There has been a lot of backlash against the cease-and-desist order, with the Los Angeles Times even coming out and stating their outright opposition to it. The head executives of the app companies have said that the order comes without an ability to enforce it, and that they are operating within the law. As I write this, I can see on the apps that Lyft and UberX still have cars operating and ready to hail. It will be interesting to see how this pans out.
A spokesmen for the CPUC, Andrew Kotch said, “We’ve reached an agreement to operate with [the app companies] under certain conditions,” which would include obeying local laws. And he adds, “If L.A. has something that they want to do or impose, it’s up to them. We regulate statewide.”
So the battle continues. It seems that the laws regulating traditional taxi and livery services are being turned inside out with the invention of these new e-hail apps. Until further action from legislators, these apps will likely be continuing to operate in Los Angeles — because people like and want them.
— Tim Crowley, LCT senior editor
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