Angelenos have more options for getting around town than ever before, thanks to the arrival of services such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar, whose drivers can be summoned with a smartphone app. But to some members of the City Council, that's a bad thing because the services aren't regulated the same way taxi companies are — by them, in other words. The city doesn't need to throw its bureaucracy at these services, however; the state Public Utilities Commission has adopted rules that address the public's safety concerns without forcing the upstarts to abandon innovative business models.
The main advocate for the city's power grab is Councilman Paul Koretz, who argues that the new services compete unfairly with city-regulated taxi services. Under state law, however, cities have authority only over transportation services whose drivers can be hailed in the street. Prearranged rides, such as those offered by limousines and shuttle buses, are under the PUC's purview. Uber, Lyft and Sidecar clearly fall into the latter category; the companies arrange and accept payment for rides exclusively through their apps.
Adopted last month, the PUC's regulations for "transportation network companies" such as Uber are modeled after its rules for limousines, including mandatory criminal background checks and training programs for drivers, safety inspections for cars and a zero-tolerance policy for drug and alcohol use. The commission also required that the companies carry more comprehensive liability insurance than limousine services do — and more than taxis in Los Angeles must carry. But it brushed aside pressure from taxi companies to treat the new ventures like something they are not — cab companies — just because they compete for some of the same customers.