Car-Sharing App Raises City Ordinance Questions, Irks Taxi Drivers

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – You may start to see a lot more vehicles with pink mustaches on the streets of St. Paul.

A new, free car-sharing app called Lyft connects drivers and passengers.

Twenty-six-year-old Rebecca Swanson has climbed aboard the bandwagon simply by having a smartphone and a car.

“They send a request on the app and I get 20 seconds to deny or accept the request,” Swanson said.

She can earn up to $20 an hour in wages, so she’s hoping to accept as many requests as possible.

“I found it on Facebook. It looked really intriguing, so I looked it up and I’m like ‘Wow, I get to meet a lot of new people this way,’” she said.

According to Lyft’s spokesperson, drivers must pass a phone screening, an in-person meeting, be 23 years old, and pass DMV and criminal background checks.

Lyft is now live in six other U.S. cities. In San Francisco, there were taxi protests in response to car-sharing companies.

Ricardo Cerventes, St. Paul’s director of safety and inspections, says his city’s ordinance is clear: if you have a meter in your vehicle, then you are a taxi – and then you need a license.

Lyft’s model relies only on a suggested voluntary “donation,” according to Cervantes.

“They do not meet our definition under the taxi cab ordinance so it’s not regulated,” Cervantes said.

Minneapolis’ ordinance says if you want to exchange fares for rides at all, you must have a meter – making car-sharing illegal in Minneapolis.

City Council Member Gary Schiff, the authority on taxi-licensing issues, says he believes this is only the beginning of the collision of transportation services and technology.

He hopes all cities in the state will eventually get on the same page.

“What California did was create a separate license statewide for these types of share-vehicle companies, and we could clearly do that with St. Paul and with Bloomington, and I’m completely open to doing that here in Minneapolis,” Schiff said.

One of the reasons the protests were prompted in other cities by taxi drivers was because regulation comes at a cost.

For instance, St. Paul cab drivers have to pay more than $500 each year in inspection and licensing fees. They also have to carry a total of $500,000 in insurance.

Lyft drivers aren’t required to pay any costs in inspection, licensing or add on to their current insurance plan.

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