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Should D.C. Ridesharing Services Like Lyft And UberX Be Regulated?

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Lyft drivers are regulated only by the company itself, raising concerns about liability and passenger safety.
Spiros Vathis: http://www.flickr.com/photos/62473243@N00/9320594263
Lyft drivers are regulated only by the company itself, raising concerns about liability and passenger safety.

For people who don't want to take the time to hail a cab on the street in D.C., several car services are available that can be ordered with a smartphone app. But concerns about passenger safety have prompted officials to take action on these previously unregulated services.

Since they launched in D.C., the smartphone-based car services UberX, Sidecar and Lyft have regulated themselves through their own online rating systems: a passenger who pays a driver poorly or a driver who drives dangerously risks getting a bad review.  But the D.C. Taxicab Commission says that is not enough.

Chairman Ron Linton says the commission will likely consider new regulations to treat these services as "private sedans" for hire.

"Our regulations when we finish writing them and propose them for consideration will cover the things people worry about when they get into a stranger's vehicle and are not quite sure what will happen," Linton says.

The new regulations could require drivers to carry a high level of insurance. Since these drivers are using their own vehicles, they are not subject to the District's background checks.

Jason Rainwater is a 27-year-old, 9-to-5 professional who works as a Lyft driver to make extra money nights and weekends. He says he understands why regulators are concerned with what he's doing.

"There is the insurance factor that if something did happen to me or happen to a driver, I don't know if Lyft would necessarily cover that or if my insurance cover it," Rainwater says.

Rami Ayyub, a 23-year-old government contractor who uses Lyft to get around, disagrees. He says he trusts Lyft is hiring safe drivers and is skeptical of the need for new regulations.

"It's not just anybody driving their car taking you around. They are vetted. They're put through some sort of process where their backgrounds are checked. So I do trust it," Ayyub says.

UberX issued a statement, saying the taxicab commission's initial findings are "filled with factual inaccuracies and ignore the ways that uberX has already solved the reliability, quality and transparency issues that have plagued the D.C. taxi industry for decades."

Sidecar also offered this statement:

DC residents deserve choice in transportation. The findings and recommendations of the DC Taxicab Commission’s panel on rideshare would move DC in the opposite direction by restricting consumer choice for DC residents who depend on safe and affordable transportation alternatives like Sidecar. We worked closely with regulators in California to create new rules that protect public safety while allowing for transportation innovation and consumer choice. We hope the DC Taxicab Commission will collaborate with Sidecar and other rideshare companies to implement policies and regulations that are best for all of the citizens of DC and not just the narrow business interests of the taxi industry.

Lyft did not respond to a request for comment.

The commission is expected to unveil its proposed regulations in March.

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