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L.A. council could file action challenging ride-sharing companies

The Los Angeles City Council is weighing a challenge to the app-driven ride-sharing companies that have been offering an alternative to driving or hailing taxicabs.

Councilman Paul Koretz is pushing for his colleagues to appeal a recent decision by the Public Utilities Commission allowing companies such as Lyft and SideCar to operate with regulation at the statewide level. The council is set to meet Friday behind closed doors to discuss the idea with city lawyers.

Passengers using ride-sharing services schedule their trips using the companies' mobile phone apps, and almost always pay a fare lower than those charged for taxis. The drivers are frequently private citizens using their own cars.

Koretz said that arrangement makes them "21st century bandit cabs" and argued that companies like Lyft, whose drivers adorn their cars with pink mustaches, are a threat to public safety.

“They’re not regulated the way taxis are, so we don’t really know what their background checks are like, or whether we can count on them,” he said. “We don’t know what conditions their vehicles are in. I see crummy cars with mustaches all over town -- just people in their own regular cars, driving.”

John Zimmer, Lyft's co-founder, sharply disagreed with that assessment, saying the PUC's rules on driver background checks and insurance requirements are more rigorous than those imposed locally on taxicabs.

“There are in fact very strict safety standards put on us by the state, in some cases more strict than what is imposed on taxis” in Los Angeles, he said.

The taxicab industry, long a political force at City Hall, contends the app-based ride services have an unfair business advantage because they operate outside the city's inspection and regulatory process. Mayor Eric Garcetti has emerged as a supporter of ride-sharing services, but also said he would work with city taxi companies to modernize their operations.

The PUC's decision, issued last month, classified ride-sharing services as Transportation Network Companies that involve "prearranged" rides. Those companies will have to obtain permits, require criminal background checks for drivers and establish a driver training program, the agency said in its decision.

"The commission is familiar with and confident in its ability to protect public safety in the face of rapid technological change," the report states.

Koretz also has accused the PUC of violating the state’s environmental laws by failing to consider the increased congestion and air pollution that would come from allowing thousands of for-hire vehicles to travel on L.A.’s roads.

An appeal of the PUC's decision must be filed by Oct. 23, according to a spokeswoman for that agency. If a request for rehearing is rejected, opponents of the PUC's decision would need to file a challenge in court.

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