- Associated Press - Saturday, August 16, 2014

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Utah’s capital city is considering ways to legalize smartphone-based ridesharing services.

The Salt Lake City Council this week discussed possible regulations for companies such as Uber and Lyft, which allow riders to request a car by using an app.

David Everitt, the chief of staff to Mayor Ralph Becker, called on officials Tuesday to require rideshare drivers to obtain commercial licenses. But he asked them to avoid requiring the drivers to arrange rides at least 30 minutes in advance or to operate a certain number of on-duty cabs around the clock.

City officials in recent weeks have slapped $6,500 fines on drivers for smartphone-based ridesharing services, saying the drivers run unlicensed taxi services.

Opponents agree. Rideshare undercuts cab companies, who must operate cabs 24 hours a day and cannot refuse a ride to any person, said Don Winder, an attorney for Salt Lake City’s Yellow Cab.

Those same rules should extend to Uber and Lyft, he said, warning that a lack of regulations could lead just a few of the new services to dominate the taxi market. He contends that would obliterate most competition, allowing the companies to pay drivers too little, provide worse service and limit their hours.

Lyft is fighting the tickets, arguing current laws don’t apply to ridesharing, the Salt Lake Tribune reported (http://bit.ly/1t0NaQ0).

Unlike taxi drivers, Lyft officials contend, their drivers work only a few hours a week and are protected by the company’s insurance policy, which they say is heftier than insurance offered by traditional cab or limousine services.

The company is offering an attorney and paying fines for drivers in Salt Lake City and elsewhere in the country, Lyft spokeswoman Katie Dally said last week.

The city in August issued more than 100 warnings and fined 17 drivers, Everitt said. It has sent secret shoppers to hail rides on Lyft or Uber, he said, then sent a registered letter with a ticket and fine to the drivers.

Everitt said Becker would like the city to create a new license tailored for the rideshare drivers to ensure the companies are licensed and insured.

“Rideshare is a different animal” than taxis or limousines, said Council Chairman Charlie Luke, “but we have to make sure everybody is operating under the same rules.”

Councilman Luke Garrott said when he first heard of the new, phone-based services, “I was tied in knots about this. But now I see it as an opportunity.”

The discussion continues Sept. 16.

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