When the hearings on ride sharing ended last spring, I discussed various possible scenarios with an ally and we thought the most probable outcome for our comments was that they would be filed away and only read if archaeologists stumbled across them a couple hundred years in the future.
This admittedly cynical view was born from the CPUC's act of ceasing the cease and desist orders against Lyft and Uber before the hearing even began. It was fostered by a perceived prejudice on the part of the CPUC that their staff often did their best to live up to.
However, this notion turned out to be too skeptical, too world weary, too paranoid. While the CPUC clearly had made up its collective mind to legalize the fake ride sharing services before the hearings began, our comments were read and even had some positive effects on the subjects of regulation and insurance.
The CPUC's proposal was therefore much less one sided than some of us had anticipated.
The CPUC ruled/proposed that Lyft, Sidecar, Uber and other Transportation Network Companies (TNC) are for hire transportation companies. In the process they gave a thumbs down to various TNC arguments including Uber's contention that they were merely a software company and the claims by Sidecar and Willie Brown that the companies were non-profits. The CPUC wrote in its decison,
"We reject Uber’s assertion that TNCs are nothing more than an application on smart phones, rather than part of the transportation industry. Uber is the means by which the transportation service is arranged, and performs essentially the same function as a limousine or shuttle company dispatch office. Accordingly, Uber is not exempt from the Commission's Jurisdiction over charter-party carriers."
The CPUC went on to say,
"We find this argument to be factually and legally flawed and, therefore, do not accept that the method by which information is communicated, or the transportation service arranged, changes the underlying nature of the transportation service being offered...." and "... the Commission is not attempting to enact rules that would impose regulations on the smart phone
The CPUC also dealt aces and eights to Lyft & Sidecar's absurd rationalization that because they called their fees "voluntary donations," they were operating as non-profits.
"We reject the arguments made by Lyft and SideCar that any payment for rides arranged through their apps is voluntary and find that current TNCs are engaged in the transportation of persons for compensation. ... Clearly each TNC is receiving either an economic benefit or a business benefit. At a minimum, they are receiving increased patronage with the growth of their businesses."
I don't know if the CPUC exactly deserves kudos for not letting the TNC lawyers pull the wool over their eyes but the fact is that they didn't. And, the CPUC arguments for not letting this happen are well thought out and well reasoned. This opens up the possibility that reason, in the end, could carry the day.
Their decision on insurance is a little more problematic. I'll deal with it in the next post.
I've had few inquiries from people wondering where to send photos of Lyft and Sidecars. You can send them to my e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org Please include the license plate # if you can and there is no point in sending a pic of a Sidecar unless it is identifiable.
In this post, I'm also including a lengthy e-mail from a Lyft driver that takes up the first three comments in my comments section.