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Lyft touts itself as your friend with a car on its website. Only this friend you haven’t met yet. Lyft is putting itself out there not as a chauffeured service but as car pooling. Except in this carpool, only one of you is going to the destination. Or maybe it’s like you don’t have a car but your buddy does so he gives you a “Lyft” to the supermarket.
Okay here’s a new scenario: My “friend “Abdul” who works for a center city taxi company comes and picks me up at my home and takes me to the supermarket. I don’t know Abdul. The difference here is that Abdul expects me to pay him for the ride. With my Lyft “friend,” donations are sent within 24 hours to the driver’s account. Taxi fare changes hands; donations are applied through the cell phone. Again, we’re talking about semantics.
If that is the case, then why is Lyft advertising on its site that drivers make up to $20/hour? That sounds like a job with pay and it is very much like the independent contractor model which most limousine operators used in the past before moving to the employee model when the tax laws changed. Pick your hours. Use your own car. It still looks like a duck.
I was visiting my daughter in Washington, D.C. recently and saw lots of pink mustached vehicles parked on side streets near popular tourist destinations. These are the same side streets which had taxis sitting by waiting for fares. If you think that Lyft is not competing with the taxi industry, you are wrong.
Part of the problem is that Washington’s taxi market is one of the worst in the country. Did you know that in D.C. you get charged $5 to put your own suitcase in the trunk of a cab? It’s called a bag fee. I had a cab driver once in D.C. who told me he was 92 years old. I was already in the cab and moving. I wouldn’t drive with my 92-year-old uncle. I don’t want to drive with a 92-year-old cab driver or a 92-year-old “friend” who I haven’t met yet.
O.K, so you are scratching you head saying, “This is a taxi issue not a limousine issue.” Well you would be wrong. It is an issue for both industries. I have heard operators say that these app companies are picking off the bottom feeders of our customer base — the ones who only want to pay cheap rates. They don’t really compete with us. But they do compete with us. It is only a matter of time before Uber or Lyft drivers are swimming in our pool. We are seeing it at the Super Bowl where Uber is an official provider of transportation. If you are paying a minimum of $500 for a ticket to the game and more likely you are paying four times that amount, are you really taking Uber to the game? I think not. I don’t think you will hear anyone saying this: “I spent $2,500 for a ticket to the game so I think I will save on the ride and use Uber or Lyft.”
Our industry has done a poor job of ridding itself of onerous fees and fines that municipalities levy on us as a revenue source. I have personally walked the halls of the nation’s Capitol asking for relief. I have testified before municipal governments, who two minutes after the testimony is complete, vote the way they planned to all along. App companies are not there beside us fighting the fight.
App companies are ignoring the laws. The owner of Uber has said that he is not going to obey rules that are not enforced and are only on the books. What Uber and Lyft have managed to do is get the public to buy in on their services. They then fight the fight in the court of public opinion using the media to talk about how big bad government is stopping them from serving their customers. The customers also fight the battles for them.
They are not necessarily wrong. Many of the laws on the books are just stupid and serve to limit competition in a market. I worked in Florida and know how difficult it is to start a limousine business in Miami. You put up $10,000 for the right to participate in a lottery for a certain amount of permits. If you lose, you are out the $10,000. Most years they don’t even have a lottery. It isn’t right.
I don’t need new “friends” driving me around. I want safe, clean vehicles driving me with drivers who are background and MVR checked. I want them to be trained on how to drive and I want them to obey the same rules that the taxi and limousines do. I have no problem if any company comes in and does this. But that is not what my “friends” are doing. You call it a donation. I call it a fare. You call it a “Lyft.” I call it a taxi.
— Linda Jagiela, LCT contributing writer
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