If you’ve ever been out on the town in Los Angeles on Fridays and Saturdays, you know that, more often than not, it’s near impossible to find a cab company with available rides. And when you do, it takes them more than half an hour to get to you. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just open your phone and summon an instant ride from someone nearby? Yup. Some techies thought so too and started several startup companies that offered local rides accessible through phone apps to pick up those who may have had too much to drink.
Companies like Lyft, Sidecar, and Uber offer affordable alternatives to cabs and help prevent DUIs when the cabs are few and far between. All offer rides through smartphone apps. In the case of Lyft and Sidecar, a private driver in a privately owned car will pick you up for a donation. Uber offers limos or town cars while the passengers’ credit cards are on file for the costs. An email receipt is later sent to the passenger.
In Los Angeles, stranded drinkers have taken a liking to the startup companies, preferring them over cabs and certainly over risking a DUI.
So what’s the problem?
They’re unlicensed, at least that’s what taxi administrator for the Los Angeles Department of Transportation Tom Drischler is saying that the problem is. And if they’re offering rides for money, that makes them no different than taxi companies who must be licensed to operate.
“Due to the fact that your company has no permits or license to transport passengers for hire, in the interest of public safety, Sidecar, including all of its agents and contractors, is hereby directed to cease and desist from picking up passengers within the City of Los Angeles,” wrote Drischler in a cease-and-desist letter addressed to Sidecar CEO Sunil Paul. He sent nearly identical letters to Lyft and Uber.
Sure, the purpose of licensing ride-for-hire companies is to protect the public from unknown drivers. But it’s not like drivers for companies like Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar are using just anybody as drivers. Drivers for the companies must have clean driving records, clean background checks, no DUIs, and their vehicles must be insured. The companies, in turn, provide business driving policies to cover the driver and passengers.
Consumers (stranded drinkers) should have the option of choosing whom they want to drive them home after an evening of drinking. Furthermore, if they can’t get the cab, do we really want them driving?
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