May 8, 2014

Kansas City Council seeks to clarify that Lyft is operating illegally

The Kansas City Council voted Thursday to clarify that the city’s taxicab code applies to the new Lyft ride sharing service. The measure makes it clear that city regulations apply to any driver accepting a “donation” as well as a fixed charge.

The Kansas City Council sought to make clear Thursday that the Lyft ride-sharing service, already open for business here, is currently operating illegally.

The council passed a measure 10-1 clarifying that city taxicab and livery regulations apply to any driver accepting a fixed charge “or donation.”

Lyft has argued that its business model shouldn’t be subject to standard municipal taxicab rules, because it doesn’t operate a taxi service. It uses a smartphone app to match passengers with drivers and says those motorists don’t charge fares but calculate “suggested donations.”

Mayor Sly James said that Lyft was trying to take advantage of an imprecise definition in city law but that the council vote took care of that.

“We’re closing a loophole,” he said.

James told his colleagues that he liked ride-sharing services and used them in other cities. But he said those companies should still have to comply with regulations that ensure the public’s safety, requiring background checks, inspections and insurance.

Kansas City inspectors say vehicles carrying paying passengers need to be licensed as a livery service and their drivers need to have permits.

Councilman Ed Ford agreed but wondered why the council was acting so hastily. He said that normally such a measure would go to a council committee, where the public would have a chance to discuss it before it came up for a council vote. That public hearing did not occur with this ordinance.

“I can imagine the outcry if we rush this through,” Ford said.

James argued time was of the essence, because Lyft has already begun operating in Kansas City in a way that the city thinks is illegal.

The service has been ticketed at least 15 times, city spokesman Chris Hernandez said. James worried that if one of Lyft’s drivers was involved in an accident, the city could be partially liable.

An attorney for Lyft could not be reached for comment Thursday.

City Attorney Bill Geary said the council’s vote makes it clear that Lyft is subject to the city’s regulations and needs to comply with them.

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