State regulators announced late Wednesday they will delay a controversial vote on sweeping new regulations for ride-hail companies like Uber and Lyft.
The California Public Utilities Commission was poised to approve a major overhaul of its regulations for ride-hail companies statewide that would impact thousands of such vehicles on San Francisco’s streets. The vote, scheduled for Thursday morning, was delayed to April 7 amid disagreements over the regulations, including whether such companies can use rental cars to offer rides.
Such contentious issues include whether Lyft drivers can lease vehicles purely for ride-hail use, if Uber drivers should be fingerprinted for criminal checks, and whether unaccompanied children can legally travel in ride-hails.
New high-stakes financial deals, like a partnership for Lyft drivers to lease vehicles from General Motors, Inc. that was announced this week, added fuel to missives between the legal teams of the multibillion ride-hail dollar companies, their critics and the CPUC.
Now Uber, Lyft and others will have more time to hash out the legal ramifications.
The CPUC still plans to discuss the Phase II regulations Thursday but will not vote on them.
Though Uber and Lyft historically have not shared the number of vehicles they operate on local roads, the decision could impact what taxi regulators estimate to be as many as 20,000 rideshare vehicles in San Francisco.
Ride-hails are legally known as Transportation Network Companies in the state, or TNCs.
Some say the 15 new “Phase II” regulations for Uber, Lyft and other TNCs proposed by commissioner Liane M. Randolph and CPUC administrative law Judge Robert R. Mason bring rideshare companies more in line with the taxi industry, though others argue that even if the new regulations are approved, ride-hail companies will still be less regulated than taxis.
Since the new proposed rules were announced in late January, Uber and Lyft each lobbied grievances about requiring trade dress (like Uber placards, or Lyft mustaches) in the backs of vehicles. The companies also said requiring more data from driver inspections was unduly burdensome.
According to Bloomberg News, Uber last had an investment valuation of $62.5 billion, and Lyft rose to $5.5 billion.
Separately, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and San Francisco International Airport both took issue with the CPUC’s potential redefinition of the term “personal vehicle,” which would include leased vehicles. Critics of that practice contend drivers are no longer “sharing” if instead of using their own vehicles, they use leased vehicles specifically for driving for Lyft or Uber.
If a leased vehicle was defined as a “personal vehicle,” it would be legal for drivers to use on the Lyft and Uber apps, a practice that is appearing to become more common.
Kate Toran, head of the SFMTA’s taxi division, said leasing vehicles changes the very definition of “ridesharing,” and opposes leased cars being defined as personal vehicles.
“[The companies] started by calling themselves ridesharing. You as a driver just happened to have an empty seat. That was the sharing,” Toran told the San Francisco Examiner.
Now, she said, “when you start leasing vehicles, to me, that’s a commercial transaction. That’s getting more and more like a taxi service, and less like, ‘sharing.’”
Uber, which wrote to the CPUC under the auspices of its subsidiary, Raiser, said it supports calling leased vehicles “personal vehicles.”
“It is well established under California law that the term ‘personal vehicle’ includes all arrangements in which drivers are authorized to use the vehicle,” Uber’s attorneys wrote to the CPUC, “including under a lease, lease-sale, or rental-purchase agreements, as long as the driver has personal use of the vehicle.”
The SFMTA requested the CPUC move new regulations concerning the definition of personal vehicles to the Phase III regulation debate, which will unfold over the next year.
Those who wish to view the CPUC meeting or publicly comment may visit its offices at 505 Van Ness Ave., in San Francisco.