News Column

PRC mulls future of popular ride-sharing services in state

June 25, 2014

By Staci Matlock, The Santa Fe New Mexican



June 25--Laura Carmichael loves Lyft for getting around Albuquerque. She was upset when she heard state regulators had stopped the peer-to-peer ride-share service in May.

Visually impaired and unable to drive, Carmichael found the smartphone-based Lyft service faster, friendlier and cheaper than taxis, public buses or even that city's van service for the disabled. "It is very hard to get around town. Taxis just cost too much money. Using the bus service, sometimes I miss my connection or don't make my connection on time," Carmichael said.

The fight over the ride-sharing service, in which vetted local drivers use their own cars to take passengers around town, isn't over.

Lyft, a nationwide company offering ride shares, is asking state regulators to reconsider its May order that halted the company's operations in New Mexico. Regulators say the ride-share programs need to meet the same regulations as taxis and other commercial passenger services.

Public Regulation Commissioners will consider the next steps in the Lyft case during a closed executive session of Wednesday's public hearing. The commission also will consider a waiver request for a specialized passenger service certificate filed with regulators by Hinter-NM for its UberX ride-share program in Bernalillo County. The outcome of that case could impact Lyft as well.

The rising popularity and unusual nature of ride-share programs have drawn attention from regulators around the country. Lyft launched in 2012 in San Francisco and quickly ran into resistance from the California Public Utilities Commission. The service debuted in April in Albuquerque. A month later, state regulators ordered the company to stop operating.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper in early June signed the first law -- the Transportation Network Company Act -- authorizing ride-share services.

Carmichael and others are doing their part to help Lyft in New Mexico. She launched a Change.org petition, which has been signed now by more than 3,400 people.

Katie Latta of Albuquerque describes herself on the Change.org petition as a frequent Lyft user. "It makes no sense for the government to stop this service. Rather, the government should have thought of this themselves a long time ago," Latta wrote. Fellow Duke City resident Brian Faulkner said the service had allowed him to get to work after his car broke down.

Some commenters said Lyft is a way to keep drunken drivers off the road. Still others say Lyft is an example of the kind of innovation and private enterprise New Mexico should be encouraging because it helps people earn extra money.

Lyft and UberX operate off smartphone apps. People load the app and request a ride. Lyft drivers use their own private cars. Drivers are vetted and undergo background checks before they can drive, and the company provides additional liability insurance. Lyft vehicles are distinguished by pink moustaches attached on front. Uber is akin to a regular taxi service, but with a selection of vehicles and prices to choose from.

Lyft and UberX charge passenger credit cards for the rides and put a portion of the money directly into their drivers' accounts. Carmichael said all she has to do is push a button on the Lyft app on her phone. The company matches her to a driver and gives her an estimated arrival time. The service sends a text message to her phone when the driver has arrived. Lyft also sends a photo of the driver and the car. "That way I know I'm getting into the right car," Carmichael said.

Regulators believe the services must meet requirements under the state Motor Carrier Act. Lyft officials disagree but say they want to work with regulators in protecting the public.

Carmichael said she doesn't believe Lyft is a taxi service, either. "They are much more customer oriented than any cab I've ever been in," said Carmichael, who used the service at least four times a week while it was operating. "If I need to stop at the pharmacy to pick up prescriptions, or somewhere else, they do that for me. It's been a very big help with me getting around."

Carmichael said the trip from her northeast-side home to her doctor's office across town costs $35 to $40 in a taxi. With Lyft, it costs no more than $28, and she doesn't have to pay with cash.

Hinter-NM worked with PRC staff to amend its initial application for a certificate to offer passenger service through UberX. PRC staff reviewed the initial application May 16 and said it wasn't complete. Hinter reapplied on June 11.

The company is asking for a waiver of three things normally required of motor carriers such as taxis. Hinter wants regulators to waive requirements for a list of all equipment, a list of drivers and driver's licenses, and a written statement certifying that the company has a drug and alcohol testing program. Hinter says drivers are independent contractors, and therefore the company doesn't have to require drug and alcohol testing.

Contact Staci Matlock at 986-3055 or smatlock@sfnewmexican.com. Follow her on Twitter @StaciMatlock.

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(c)2014 The Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, N.M.)

Visit The Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, N.M.) at www.santafenewmexican.com

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Source: Santa Fe New Mexican, The (NM)


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