KC fights Lyft ride-sharing service in federal court

07/02/2014 5:06 PM

07/03/2014 8:57 AM

A federal judge said Wednesday he will rule within a week on Kansas City’s request to temporarily halt the Lyft ride-sharing service from operating in the city.

U.S. District Judge Brian Wimes challenged attorneys for both sides during arguments Wednesday on the city’s motion for a temporary restraining order against the company. Wimes said he will rule by next Wednesday.

Lyft came to town in early May and quickly gained buzz as one of a wave of companies, including UberX, that use a smartphone app to link passengers with part-time drivers in their own vehicles. City regulators say UberX has gotten a business license and is taking steps to get its drivers licensed, but Lyft has been unwilling to work with the city.

Assistant City Attorney Steven Diegel argued that Lyft has essentially enabled its drivers to “thumb their noses” at city taxi regulations for nearly two months.

He said Lyft fits the city’s definition of a transportation-for-hire company just as taxicabs and limousine services do, and public safety is at stake if its drivers and vehicles aren’t properly inspected and certified.

“Its services fall within the code, and it is required to comply,” Diegel said, adding that the city needs the temporary restraining order because 16 tickets issued to Lyft drivers have not deterred its continued operations.

Wimes questioned whether a temporary restraining order is really the proper remedy, and Pat McInerney, Lyft’s attorney, echoed that concern.

“This can’t be the substitute for ordinary enforcement,” McInerney said, adding that the city hasn’t even exhausted its existing legal remedy of allowing the tickets against individual drivers to make their way through municipal court.

McInerney said Lyft doesn’t own or operate vehicles, although it does make sure the drivers and vehicles are safe and insured. He argued that Lyft doesn’t fit Kansas City’s regulatory scheme and likened the company to OpenTable reservations, which matches diners with restaurants.

But Wimes appeared skeptical of that analogy and Lyft’s alleged attempt to skirt business regulations. “Well, if you’re picking up relative strangers, don’t you expect to get paid?” he asked.

Once Wimes rules on the temporary restraining order, the two sides are gearing up for a trial on a permanent injunction against Lyft’s operations in the city. That trial is tentatively set for September.

To reach Lynn Horsley, call 816-226-2058 or send email to lhorsley@kcstar.com.

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