As Uber, Lyft, Sidecar, and other ridesharing apps have entered cities such as Boston, Dallas, Chicago, Indianapolis, and others, both taxi commissions and local and state governments are grappling to deal with the sudden influx and consumer demand of these services. Each of these companies offer their own set of rules and regulations imposed on their drivers, but many cities are passing regulations and ordinances that further regulate the services.
New York City, Seattle, Chicago, and Minneapolis are four cities that have strict regulations or ordinances to which all rideshare companies must adhere. Most of these regulations were made in conjunction with traditional hail services like taxi cabs, livery services, limousines, and others.
Seattle's Mayor Ed Murray passed the city's regulatory ordinance on rideshares by holding a 45-day mediation with key stakeholders; Rideshare companies, taxi drivers, and flat-rate vehicles were called and part of the process. The ordinance removed a cap on how many drivers each rideshare company could have, as well passing new regulations, like stricter licensing of the drivers.
"This agreement was in some ways historic," Andrew Glass-Hastings, the Seattle Transit and Transportation adviser to the mayor, told BuzzFeed. "We were able to find ways to bring these stakeholders together and sort the ins and outs of this field. The major players in the industry now are satisfied with the results and hope we can continue this level of satisfaction."
Dallas has also taken the same route, having a transportation-for-hire group work with members of the cab, limousine, and rideshare industry work together to craft regulations on which they can all agree. The group, led by Dallas City Council member Sandy Greyson, has proposed a new regulation that will be reviewed in September. It includes eliminating fare regulation, while requiring a driver permit that includes a training class on city regulations, an annual background check, and a drug test.
Chicago has imposed a similar regulation, in which all "rideshare companies need to obtain licenses and drivers for companies that have a company-wide driver average of more than 20 hours per week will also need to obtain public chauffeur licenses from the City," said Mika Stambaugh, director of communications for the Chicago's office of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection.
Washington, D.C., and Boston join the likes of Dallas and are in the process of making their own recommendations, with no final decisions yet because of summer recess. But even with imposing regulations, most cities are open to redefining what their transportation markets can look like. The D.C. Taxicab Commission, whose role is to craft regulations once the city council sets public policy, exclusively believes in these ideals. "We believe that the market wants these services and are demanding these services," Neville Waters, D.C. Taxicab Commission public information officer, told BuzzFeed. "There is a marketplace for them and it doesn't serve anyone's best interest in trying to stop them."
Jacob Frey, Minneapolis council member, shares the same sentiment and recently helped pass an ordinance allowing Uber and Lyft in the city. "You don't want regulation to put a stranglehold on these new and innovative companies' ability to do business," he told BuzzFeed. "At the same time, you need to protect public safety. You have three options: 1) You can regulate the living heck out of it, which you don't want to do. 1) You can do nothing. 3) You can find ways of insuring public safety while not infringing on the business side of things. And we're in the process of finding a happy medium."
Most of these cities, however, aren't even considering the possibility of too many rideshare apps operating in a city or what the crowding of these services may do to their traffic patterns.
While Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar are three of the more popular services, other apps, like Wingz and ZimRide, are entering the market as well. Just recently, several Stanford students launched their own rideshare app to bring people to and from Palo Alto, Calif., and San Francisco. Considering the rise of startups, there's no sign that the proliferation of these apps will slow down at any point.
Cities are taking the best route for now — regulating and adapting to the services that are already here, rather than trying to plan for the future. But even when thinking about the future, many are unfazed.
"The marketplace will determine how many apps can survive in D.C.," said Ron Linton, chairman of the D.C. Taxicab Commission.
As for traffic patterns, most cities believe new transportation options will influence traffic rates and car ownership positively by driving them down.
"This single phenomena [of rideshare apps] won't change a pattern we've seen in recent times where people are driving less, especially as downtown Indianapolis is exploding with its population," said Marc Lotter, director of communications for the mayor of Indianapolis. "A lot of younger people are moving back into the city from the suburbs because they don't want to drive a long time to get to work, and having access to car-sharing, ridesharing, [and] bike-sharing are very popular. The overall majority of people will see this as another great reason not to own a car, let alone buy one."
Glass-Hastings agreed: "These types of transportation options have really proven to be successful and prevented people from bringing their private cars downtown," he said. "If you have one Uber car that makes a dozen or so trips anywhere, as opposed to one person driving their car and letting it sit all day, then the impact is negligible."
Over in Boston, officials believe rideshare apps won't cause any new traffic problems the city isn't used to. "We don't anticipate [an increase in cars on the road or traffic problems] being a large focus of the exploration here frankly, because Boston faces a significant number of other traffic challenges independent of rideshare apps, with wide-ranging causes such as older infrastructure and development," said Kate Norton, press secretary to Boston Mayor Marty Walsh.
Not all cities are sold on this idea, though. "In our study of the matter, these rideshare companies will significantly increase the number of vehicles from one point to another," said Litton from the D.C. Taxicab Commission. "They are coming in here and are using vehicles that are not in the system. I think here will be people who will buy or lease vehicles. There are rumors as well that Uber may lease vehicles to those who just want to drive. That's why we need regulations — so we have some idea as to what's going on and that it's legitimate."
For now, cities will just continue to adapt in hopes of creating a safer industry.
"Ridesharing is a new and innovative transportation mode that can add to the collage of options that people have to get from point A to point B," said Frey. "It also enables people to move away from the automobile centrality and get away from their car. These are good goals no matter what way they look at it. We can't say no to innovation just because it's new and different."