Lyft and UberX In Talks City Officials About Permitting 

Ride-sharing companies want new rules rather than submitting to taxicab rules.

Lyft drivers are still giving lifts around Memphis, despite a cease-and-desist order from the city two weeks ago. Drivers from ride-sharing service UberX continue to operate as well.

Both companies say they're in talks with the city permits office, and both say they're hoping Memphis, like so many other cities before, will develop new rules and regulations for ride-sharing services rather than making the companies submit to rules in place for taxicabs.

"We are a technology company. We don't own any vehicles. We don't hire drivers," said Taylor Bennett, a spokesperson for UberX. "They are independent contractors, so we're very different from traditional taxi companies and livery services. The existing regulations are meant for taxis, and we're hoping to develop new frameworks or amend existing ones."

Both UberX and Lyft operate in much the same way: Drivers use their own personal vehicles. They are "hailed" using a smart phone app that stores the passenger's credit card information. No money is exchanged between the passenger and the driver because rides are automatically charged to the passenger's card. Fares are generally cheaper than an average cab ride.

click to enlarge Lyft (pictured) and UberX are still operating in Memphis. - COURTESY OF LYFT
  • Courtesy of Lyft
  • Lyft (pictured) and UberX are still operating in Memphis.

The local taxicab industry has demanded that UberX and Lyft submit to the same permits, fees, background checks, and other regulations that they are required to adhere to, but the ride-sharing companies contend that new rules should be drawn up for them.

City Permits Administrator Aubrey Howard, who issued the cease-and-desist order, said he's currently in talks with both companies about how to handle the issue.

"The crux of the cease-and-desist is to start a conversation," Howard said.

Other cities, such as Seattle and Baton Rouge, have passed ordinances legalizing ride-sharing. And Colorado recently became the first state to authorize ride-sharing through the state legislative process.

Shortly after Memphis issued the cease-and-desist order, Nashville's Transportation Licensing Commission announced it would work with Lyft and UberX to help drivers in their city get permitted.

"We're going to be asking the [Nashville-Davidson] Metro Council to amend the livery section, and we would put them in the same category as black-car services, limos, and shuttles. We plan on defining them into the law," said the commission's interim director Billy Fields.

But in Memphis, Howard, who also serves as the executive secretary for the Memphis Transportation Commission, said he's working with the city's current ordinances.

"We are trying to enforce the ordinances we have on the books as they are. These companies are, in our opinion, operating illegally," Howard said. "We want to get them to comply by getting some kind of permit or stop doing business until they do."

Glen Rose, operations manager at Yellow Cab, doesn't want the city to compromise on regulations.

"If they are going to operate in the city, we want them to be permitted and have the same insurance regulations and requirements that we do. Their drivers should have to go through the same background checks, criminal checks, and be fingerprinted," Rose said.

Whether Memphis will attempt to enforce existing transportation rules on Lyft and UberX or develop new ones as other cities have done remains to be seen. But both companies say they are determined to stay in Memphis.

"We are continuing to work with local leaders, and we're positive that we will come to a solution that benefits the community and allows ride-sharing to continue to grow there," said Lyft spokesperson Chelsea Wilson.

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