(Aleah Fajardo/Special to S.F. Examiner)

State regulators may give up effort to restrict rental cars used for Uber, Lyft

Perhaps the most heated — yet seldom heard — debate among transit leaders in California involved the possible restriction of Uber and Lyft drivers using rental cars.

The ride-hail companies encouraged their drivers to rent or lease cars for hire instead of using what the state legally defined as a “personal vehicle.”

Now, however, after the passage of an Assembly bill that legally allows rented vehicles to be considered personal vehicles when driving for Uber and Lyft, state regulators have seemingly slammed the brakes on proposed restrictions.

A California Public Utilities Commission law judge issued a proposed decision Monday to adopt the state’s newly passed definition of a personal vehicle when driven by “Transportation Network Companies” — the legal terminology for Uber and Lyft drivers in the state.

The decision requires a vote by CPUC commissioners to enact.

The CPUC regulates TNC’s in California, and was knee-deep in discussion about its proposed third phase of regulations around Uber and Lyft — which may have even banned rental vehicles outright from the Uber and Lyft platforms.

The discussions around personal vehicles were prompted in part at the request of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which regulates Muni, city streets and traditional taxi cabs in The City.

The SFMTA had urged the CPUC to consider the implications of allowing Uber and Lyft drivers to use rented vehicles, and not personal ones — arguing that by operating a fleet of cars, even by proxy, Uber and Lyft were slowly becoming exactly like traditional taxis, except governed by far fewer regulations.

“The personal vehicle decision may open the door to even more under-regulated vehicles providing for hire transportation services in San Francisco with minimal enforcement or oversight,” the SFMTA said in a legal filing. “This will likely add even more congestion to our city streets.”

In its decision, Commissioner Liane Randolph wrote, “The Commission adopts and interprets the newly enacted definition of a personal vehicle that is used by a Transportation Network Company driver to provide transportation services in California.”

That newly enacted definition of personal vehicles comes via Assembly Bill 2763, authored by Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, and signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown this year.

Personal vehicles are now considered vehicles owned, leased, or rented for a term “that does not exceed 30 days” that is not a taxicab or limousine, according to the CPUC.
Randolph added that all regulations for TNC vehicles, including inspections and displaying “trade dress” (like Lyft glow-staches), would apply to rented vehicles.

Hyrecar, Breeze, Enterprise, General Motors and others all offer some form of car rental or leasing service to prospective Uber or Lyft drivers.

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