- Associated Press - Thursday, April 24, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - The Public Service Commission has sent warnings to two ridesharing companies that they need the commission’s permission to offer services in Nebraska.

On Monday the commission issued letters to Lyft and Uber, two San Francisco companies that use smartphone applications to link motorists and people who would pay for rides. Passengers pay through the app and can even tip electronically.

Commission director Mark Breiner said during a hearing Tuesday that the companies have advertised on Facebook and Craigslist for drivers in Omaha, Lincoln and Columbus.

Commissioner Anne Boyle said she was concerned about public safety.

“The general public needs to know that they may or may not have insurance, and if there’s an accident, they may or may not be covered,” Boyle said. “We just don’t know.”

Breiner said in the commissioner’s letter to Uber and Lyft that the background checks of the drivers and the quality and safety of the vehicles being used are also concerns.

“Any operations that you undertake in the state, as well as the persons who perform any such operations on your behalf, are violating state law,” Breiner wrote. “These violations will result in criminal prosecutions as well as civil penalties. Any vehicle that is used in these unlawful operations will be impounded as a public nuisance.”

The commission didn’t take any action at the hearing, and company representatives didn’t appear.

Lyft officials didn’t immediately respond Thursday to a message from The Associated Press, but the company announced on its website that it was launching its service in 24 new U.S. markets, including Lincoln.

Uber representative Lauren Altmin said in an email that safety is paramount in Uber’s operations and that for ridesharing, “Uber maintains a best-in-class insurance policy in addition to industry-leading background checks, vehicle inspections, system training and screening interviews.”

Altmin didn’t address the commission’s warning but said Uber looked forward “to working with local officials to explore opportunities further.” Uber operates in more than 100 cities around the world.

The two and other ridesharing services have drawn fire from taxi, limousine and other transportation companies that complain that the services avoid costly requirements that they and other commercial services much follow.

To drive home their dismay with what they see as unfair competition, more than 100 cabbies pulled up outside the Colorado Statehouse earlier this year. In addition to Colorado, legislators in Arizona, Georgia and Maryland have considered regulatory legislation.

One of Omaha’s taxi services said the commission is being fair.

“There’s not an issue about there being competition in the workplace,” said John Davis, operations director for Happy Cab. But if Uber and Lyft are going to offer transportation services, Davis said, they “have to play by the same rules everybody else is doing.”

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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