Ride-sharing service falls outside Buffalo laws - The Buffalo News
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Ride-sharing service falls outside Buffalo laws

The ad on Facebook promises income of up to $20 an hour or $500 per weekend.

The job?

Driving for Lyft, a company that utilizes Web applications to connect people looking for rides with cars that have seats available.

“Lyft is looking for drivers! Join the community and make up to $20/hr and $500 per weekend while meeting great people around the city. Choose when you drive!” the ad reads.

But this business model, in which drivers use their own cars to pick up people nearby who need a ride in exchange for a suggested “donation,” isn’t something Buffalo’s existing laws know how to handle. City officials have warned that drivers could be subject to tickets or the impoundment of their vehicles because of laws already on the books governing taxicabs and livery services.

“We have to come up with something that is fair for everyone,” said North Council Member Joseph Golombek.

If the city finds that the ride-sharing service is illegal, a working committee will look at the issue and see if a legal and level playing field can be formed, he said.

The service started in California and has operated since summer 2012 but began in Buffalo and 23 other cities on April 24. Its cars are recognizable because of the use of a fuzzy pink mustache on the grill. Drivers and people looking for rides find each other using Lyft’s mobile web application.

Taxi drivers across the country have opposed ride-sharing services like Lyft, and many showed up in City Hall last week, along with Lyft drivers and users, to debate the merits of the service.

Lyft driver Jennifer Torres, 26, said she underwent a background check and vehicle safety check. On weekends, she hangs around the Chippewa strip in search of passengers, she said.

She drives for “supplemental income” and to reduce the number of drunk drivers on the roads, she said.

The City of Buffalo, at first look, considers the service a livery or taxi operation, both of which are required to follow city ordinances. Those mandates include required inspection of taxi meters, background checks for drivers, as well as higher insurance coverages for drivers who carry paying customers. The city also charges an annual fee of $115 per taxicab, and there are only 300 taxicab medallions available every year.

But Lyft is not a taxicab or livery service, because a donation to the driver is up to each passenger, said Edward Betz, a lobbyist for the company. It promotes ride-sharing, and is a transportation network company, not a transportation company, he said.

Patrick Sole, director of permits and inspections for the city, was doubtful of Betz’s claims and said that if people are providing rides for compensation, meters should be checked so that appropriate rates are charged.

His department’s recommendation is that police officers issue summonses to drivers for operating an unlicensed livery vehicle, which could be subject to impoundment or housing court violations.

Taxicabs are required to carry a higher level of insurance that allows them to carry paying passengers, which Lyft drivers do not carry. Betz said the company carries insurance policies that would fill in any gaps if the driver’s policy is not enough to cover a claim.

Golombek said there seems to be a consensus among city departments that the ride-sharing service is not operating within city laws but that more discussions would be held to determine what should be done.

“I don’t think there is anyone necessarily opposed to these new businesses coming into the city of Buffalo, but there are rules and regulations,” he said.

email: jterreri@buffnews.com

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