Monday, January 13, 2014 , Updated 12:00 p.m., January 21, 2014
Lyft asks fans to defend their car service at a January 21 public hearing
Lyft is a peer-to-peer ride-sharing service.
DALLAS Thursday, Uber took center stage in advance of the city’s trilogy of transportation-for-hire regulation hearings. The San Francisco-based tech company announced earlier that week that its on-demand, app-ordered ride-sharing service UberX is cutting prices in Dallas in an effort to undercut taxicabs. Now it’s Lyft’s turn to hog the mic: The UberX competitor sent an email to its customers Friday asking them to turn out and speak up at the January 21 public hearing at Dallas City Hall.
“Since our Dallas launch, we’ve worked with local officials to show how peer-to-peer transportation can make the city a safer, friendlier, more affordable place,” says the missive signed by Olivia Brown, who’s identified as the Lyft Dallas community manager. “Now, local taxi interests are putting pressure on City Council to shut Lyft down. On Tuesday, January 21, Council will meet to hear whether Dallas residents think ridesharing should be allowed to continue, and we need your voice of support. Join fellow Lyft Dallas community members at the hearing and let council members know why Lyft matters to you.”
That hearing will be held in council chambers from 5-7 p.m., and is sandwiched between two committee briefings on the subject beginning with Monday’s meeting of the Transportation and Trinity River Project Committee. That will be an extended dance remix that starts at 1 and last until 3 p.m. and will begin with this dry recap of the city’s current existing rules regulating cab and limo companies followed by what’s expected to be a far livelier council discussion.
This will be the first real discussion about ride-sharing services since Uber suddenly appeared on, then disappeared from, the council’s consent agenda in August. Since then, interim city manager A.C. Gonzalez apologized for bypassing council — just before it became clear even his predecessor, Mary Suhm, wanted him to tap the brakes. Mayor Mike Rawlings called the whole thing “highly disappointing.”
Lyft’s email sends readers to a page titled “Lyft Dallas Stands Together,” a sort of RSVP page where folks who can turn out to “Defend Lyft in Dallas” are asked to leave their names and email addresses. There’s also a space in which folks are required to “share your personal stories, why you think Dallas needs Lyft, or any specific ways you can help our movement.”
This end-of-week call to arms is reminiscent of the #DallasNeedsUber meme that sprang up over the summer, which ultimately led to the Uber-launched Change.org petition that garnered a whopping 18,644 virtual signatures of support.
Erin Simpson, Lyft’s spokesperson, says the ride-sharing service is all for some kind of regulations in Dallas. She points out that Lyft, Uber and Sidecar were more than happy with the rules adopted by California’s Public Utilities Commission in September, which demand, among other things, driver background checks, vehicle inspections and insurance coverage.
The PUC’s rules, she tells The Dallas Morning News, create a “regulatory framework that allows for innovation and consumer choice while maintaining the highest level of customer safety. That’s what we want to do in Dallas. Since we launched in Dallas, we’ve seen a tremendous response, and the members of the Dallas Lyft community don’t want to lose it.”
Simpson says Lyft already adheres to many of the California-imposed rules in Dallas: “We do a very strict criminal background check, a thorough DMV check, and we carry $1 million in insurance. Taxis in Dallas are only required to $500,000 insurance.”
Of course, Yellow Cab — which has been trying to shut down Lyft, Uber and other smartphone car services — didn’t even comply with those rules until November. Before then, the company was self-insuring for claims up to $250,000, and violating city code for years. The irony: Yellow Cab and its attorney launched the city’s attack on Uber last year, claiming it was a rule-breaker with little concern for public safety.
And the cab industry remains unhappy with the resolution in California: Just this week the president of the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association insisted that Uber, Lyft, Sidecar and other similar services need even more regulations after 6-year-old Sophia Liu was killed in a San Francisco crosswalk by an Uber-contracted driver. Uber has said the driver “was not providing services on the Uber system during the time of the accident” and has denied any liability.
“Big picture we see that the responsibility of city and state government is public safety,” Simpson says. “When there are things happening that are anti-competitive the person who loses is the consumer. People want options. We’ve seen this happen in other cities — we’re dealing with a similar situation in Seattle, where they’ve supported a regulatory framework that’s very protective of taxis. And there, people are also coming out and sharing their stories and coming out in droves. It’s interesting to see how much people are interested in having other options. I expect we’ll see that in Dallas.”
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