Ridesharing Debate Heating Up

A revolution in personal transportation is underway in many major cities across the US, led by technology companies such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar– collectively referred to as Transportation Network Companies, or TNCs. All of the major TNCs follow a similar model: a person uses an app on his or her smartphone to request a car. The driver receives notification of the ride request through the app, picks up the passenger in the driver’s personally owned vehicle, and takes the passenger to the desired destination. The passenger pays through the app using saved credit card information, and may then rate the driver and service.

The services have been described by users as simple, efficient, cheap and pleasurable – a stark difference from how many would describe the experience of trying to hail a taxi in any large metropolis. However, states, cities, regulators, lawmakers and insurance companies are trying to determine whether a person that works part- or full-time as a driver for a TNC is performing professional activities or personal activities with the vehicle. Proponents for TNC services refer to it as “ride-sharing”, while the growing opposition maintains that TNC services are nothing more than unregulated cab driving.

According to Robert Callahan California’s executive director of The Internet Association, via The Sacramento Bee, “The sharing economy and those who are disrupting established business models are definitely drawing the ire of traditional special interest groups, in this case in the transportation sector,” Callahan’s group represents a number of these TNC’s as they work their way through the legal and political fights that have popped up against them around the nation.

In addition to the many perceived quality-of-life benefits these companies provide, the Washington Post is reporting that the industry may have had a hand in reducing the number of DUIs in the Philadelphia area – a city which coincidently has banned these companies from operating. Such evidence has also been seen in Seattle, Washington, and San Francisco, California. Opposition groups, however, have referred to the services as both unsafe and unregulated; an argument echoed by many taxi companies who bemoan that the regulations they must adhere to do not apply to TNCs. As a result, regulators have been increasingly setting their sights on these new companies.

Over the past year oppositional attempts to regulate TNCs have begun to snowball – Arizona, California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and West Virginia all saw bills relating to these services during the 2013-2014 biennium. In Virginia, Uber and Lyft, the two largest TNCs received cease and desist notices from the state’s Attorney General, while Maryland’s Public Service Commission has proposed to regulate these businesses as a taxicab company, a move that would surely stifle their growth and innovation. With many of the large municipalities that TNC’s operate in also taking regulatory steps, it may be in their best interest to push for more lenient state-level regulation rather than a patchwork of municipal ordinances.