Legislature could consider boost for ride share companies

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State lawmakers in January could consider a legal boost for ride sharing companies like Uber and Lyft.

State Rep. Monica Youngblood, an Albuquerque Republican, plans to propose legislation that would allow such transportation network companies to operate under a statute that applies to the industry.

“Currently, the Motor Carrier Act is so outdated and erroneous it doesn’t make any sense to try fold (transportation network companies) into it,” Youngblood said. “One, there’s no ‘hailing’ for an Uber. Two, the app matches drivers and riders, drivers are entrepreneurs that can make their own hours and work as much or as little as they want. Three, rates are determined by the demand in the market, not (the Public Regulation Commission.)”

Youngblood said the legislation would set new safety guidelines for vehicles and drivers. The bill could implement a “three tier liability insurance framework” instead of the 24/7 insurance that the Motor Carrier Act requires.  

In order for the lawmakers to consider the topic, Gov. Susana Martinez would need to add it to her list of issues for legislators to tackle during the 30-day session that begins Jan. 19. The session largely focuses on budget matters.

Ride share services and taxis have been operating in New Mexico for many years, but when new Internet-based services like Uber and Lyft came along, so did the disruption.  Despite their innovative models, they were expected to  operate under the same rules of the road as traditional taxi services.

According to Bryan Brock, Director of the PRC Transportation Division, for the past 100 years, New Mexico has followed the Motor Carrier Act enforced by  the PRC’s  Transportation Division to ensure public and consumer safety for rideshare services and traditional taxis alike.

The issue

Now, with newer and more innovative rideshare services available, issues are arising with the act.

“It’s a very regulated market,” Brock said. He said the PRC wants to ensure that companies have all they need in place before they start operating, such as insurances and guidelines.

Brock said the PRC must ensure public safety and also the safety of people operating the company.

The Motor Carrier Act regulates transportation network companies, Lyft and Uber fall into this category.

Lyft came to New Mexico in April of 2014. Not long after, it paused operations in the state after certain regulations couldn’t be met.  

“While we appreciate the work done by the PRC, the new rules do not allow true ridesharing to operate in New Mexico,” Chelsea Wilson, Lyft’s public policy communications officer said in the statement.

“We are now forced to choose between supporting regulations that we know will make it exceedingly difficult for our peer-to-peer driver community to thrive, or taking a stand for the right long-term path forward. Because of this, we have made the difficult decision to pause operations in Albuquerque on May 14th.”

Members of the PRC have said they are not sure why Lyft left the state, but they assume it is a business decision. According to Carlos Padilla, Public Information Officer for the PRC, Lyft may not have wanted to “put up the fight” for Albuquerque’s market because it may not have been worth the cost.

Uber is still operating within the state, but not in accordance with the Motor Carrier Act, Brock said.

“The company  is currently operating without a regulatory environment to operate in. They’re refusing to follow a state statute, the Motor Carrier Act. They say they don’t fall into that scheme very well, they want a new regulation,” Brock said.

In an attempt to get new regulations, Uber filed a “shell” of an application in 2014, according to Brock, which asked for more exceptions to the act than provide information about their services.

“It’s their attempt to say, ‘OK commission we understand you exist. We are going to fill out your application, but we are going to ask for so many different exceptions to it.’ It really doesn’t work,” he said.

Brock added that New Mexico has municipal taxis that have been operating in the state for many years, but it now has these new companies “playing in the game” without any authority.

There are two types of taxi services in the state: municipal services and general services.  Municipals have to be centrally dispatched and have to respond to every single call they receive. General taxi services don’t  have to be centrally dispatched, like an app, and they can choose which calls they take, and which they don’t.

According to Brock, a transportation network company applying for general taxi service would work, but none have agreed to do so because companies like Lyft and Uber think they fall under different regulations.

According to an Associated Press article, services like the Yellow Checker Cab say that services like Lyft and Uber don’t have the necessary requirements to operate within the state and are a risk for drivers and residents.

“So, we continue to be  in this state of limbo because we don’t have that regulatory environment,” Brock said.

Uber has its own requirements that their drivers must follow to be able to become a driver. However, these requirements vary and are not exactly the same as the ones required by the state.

The New Mexico News Port contacted Uber and its communications team three times for a comment, but emails and calls were not returned.

One of the those requirements is that transportation network companies must provide up to date driver profiles. The PRC also requires a series of drug tests, background checks and vehicle inspections. This is an issue for Uber because of the high volume of drivers that they have signing on and off the app. With this high influx of drivers signing on and off, the regulatory inspections of vehicle are difficult to conduct. It also makes it difficult to provide static driver files.

Looking ahead

Padilla said PRC officials have discussed the issue for several months. He said the regulators look at all aspects of the issue and are aware of Uber’s operations. However, they are not taking any further measures to cease Uber’s  operations until more information is found and an official decision is made.

“The committee looks for something that is business friendly for the state and that also watches out for the companies who have been previously operating in New Mexico,” he said.

Youngblood said her legislation is important because people need  to understand that technology is changing the way business is done.

“We need to welcome innovation instead of  try and fit it into an archaic regulation that is already on the books,” she said.

She added that there is only one taxi per 5,000 people in our state and that they only operate in large metro areas.

DWI is also a huge issue, she said, and “we should be doing everything we can” as a state to give residents more options for affordable transportation.