Sweeping new regulations proposed for Uber, Lyft may level playing field for taxis

AP PHOTO/ERIC RISBERG

Uber and Lyft may soon face tighter-than-ever inspections on how it calculates fares and its insurance and criminal records, in addition to facing more frequent vehicle inspections under newly proposed regulations.

A California Public Utilities Commission administrative law judge proposed the sweeping new rules in a ruling issued Monday afternoon.

If approved by the California Public Utilities Commission at its regular meeting Feb. 25, some of the new rules may in some ways level the playing field for taxis, experts told the Examiner.

The taxi industry frequently complains it is difficult to complete against “rideshares” because the two industries are regulated by different entities, and play by a different set of rules.

Rideshares are typically called Transportation Network Companies in California.

Among Commissioner Liane M. Randolph and CPUC Administrative Law Judge Robert R. Mason’s 15 proposed new “Phase II” regulations for Uber, Lyft and other TNCs are some tighter regulations, which bring TNCs more in line with the taxi industry. Those include increasing the frequency of vehicle inspections, tighter background checks for TNCs which mainly drive unaccompanied minors (like Shuddle), annual reports on “fare-splitting” (like UberPool and Lyft Line services), and increased records transparency.

Uber and Lyft may soon need to open their books to the CPUC on proof of required liability insurance, criminal background check information, driver’s licenses and driving records, vehicle inspection records, as well as driver suspensions, deactivations, and subsequent reactivations.

TNCs also may now need to display “trade dress” (Like Lyft’s iconic mustache) in the back and front of the vehicle, so they are more visible.

Susan Shaheen is co-director of UC Berkeley’s Transportation Sustainability Research Center, and is a leading expert on Uber and Lyft. She told the Examiner that some of these regulations make TNCs more heavily regulated, like taxis.

As far as increasing transparency around calculating fares, Shaheen said, “That I’d put in the bucket of leveling the playing field in regulations.”

Fares are a “heavily regulated” area of the taxi industry, she said.

But in other ways, the CPUC pushed back on requirements to bring Uber and Lyft in line with the taxi industry, she said. For instance, the CPUC’s decision said it “declines” to pursue fingerprinting Uber and Lyft drivers for criminal checks, which is a requirement of taxi drivers.

Whether that’s a big loss is still unknown, Shaheen said.

Shaheen was on a National Academy of Sciences committee which issued a special report on fingerprinting and criminal checks in rideshares. She said, “we weren’t able to find a body of evidence indicating whether fingerprinting added to safety one way or another,” and more research was needed.

On the other hand, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon has tasked Uber and Lyft with being more transparent about its safety record. Many drivers with criminal records passed their criminal check process, he alleged, which he characterized as less rigorous than that of taxis.

Uber did not return requests for comment for this story. Lyft told the Examiner it was too early to yet comment, as the company is still reviewing the ruling.CPUCJudge Robert MasonLyftTransitUber

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