New rideshare program not in compliance with SLC ordinances, officials say

Posted at 9:57 PM, May 06, 2014
and last updated 2014-05-06 23:57:39-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- A new Smartphone app is matching up drivers with people who need a ride in Salt Lake City. It’s called Lyft, a national rideshare program that came to Utah a few weeks ago.

While many like the convenience of ordering a ride with a touch on their phone, the city is cracking down on the service.

“I’m among the first, I guess it was 80 drivers, who started on opening night,” said Megan, who asked FOX13 to not disclose her last name.

The Salt Lake resident is helping steer the business through downtown streets, even adorning her Honda with a pink mustache, the signature of the company.

“There’s a demographic of people who are using Lyft. They have a smartphone. They have a credit card. They’ve heard of the Lyft app through Facebook. They have a Facebook account,” Megan said.

Social media savvy customers opt for the app-based service over traditional taxis, according to Megan, because it’s simpler. After ordering a car on their phones, they can track their driver and see what kind of vehicle he or she is using. If the ride isn’t up to their standards, they can even adjust the price on their phones, before paying with a credit card online.

“It’s fun,” Megan said. “People love it.”

But now, the growing customer base could be getting her into trouble with the city.

“I know that my friends who were driving the downtown area have gotten warnings,” Megan said. “And it took the wind out of their sails.”

In April, the city sent a public letter to Lyft and Uber, another ride sharing service, warning them about their clear standards for ground transportation businesses.

“The city has ordinances on the books and we’re obligated to enforce those and that includes enforcing on people who don’t have licenses to provide ground transportation,” said David Everitt, Chief of Staff for the Salt Lake City Mayor’s Office.

According to Everitt, the city has issued about a dozen warnings to Lyft drivers, which carry thousands of dollars in possible penalties.

“We have a mystery shopper program where people will purport to get a ride,” Everitt said. “And if they catch you giving a ride, they’ll issue a citation.”

Their goal isn’t to punish, but to make sure ride share programs face the same regulatory scrutiny as cab companies.

“As far as I’m concerned, they’re just stealing. It’s just outright theft,” said Randy Wright, a driver for City Cab.

There are currently three cab companies in Salt Lake City, which must adhere to strict regulatory and licensing fees, something Lyft has been able to avoid.

According to Lyft’s company website, its drivers must all pass a criminal background check, maintain a clear driving record and be fully insured.

“The city should just let them know that this isn’t the way that we do business in Utah,” Wright said.

But business only seems to be growing for the drivers at Lyft, who at this point, don’t plan to let the city drive them out of town.

“They enjoy the clean car, the friendly talk we have getting to different places,” said John, a driver for Lyft.

While no formal citations have been given, Everitt said the drivers could be facing up to a $7,000 fine.

“We in the city government love the idea of there being innovative transportation options for our residents,” Everitt said. “And we hope to see those come here in some form that’s also fair to the companies that are currently operating in Salt Lake City.”