Three members of the Los Angeles City Council called Tuesday for state lawmakers to back tighter state regulation of ride-sharing companies such as Lyft and Uber, arguing that existing rules leave passengers using the firms' smartphone apps vulnerable and put traditional taxicabs at an unfair disadvantage.
"When it comes to public safety, there shouldn't be a double standard in Los Angeles," Councilman Paul Koretz said, calling the ride-sharing firms "well-financed bandit cabs with apps."
Koretz and Councilman Gil Cedillo joined scores of taxi drivers at a news conference Tuesday to urge the passage of a soon-to-be amended bill, AB 612 by Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian (D-Sherman Oaks). The bill would require ride-sharing operators to carry the same 24-7 commercial insurance coverage as regular taxis. An earlier version of the bill ran into trouble in the lower house of the Legislature.
Koretz, Cedillo and Councilman Paul Krekorian also introduced a resolution Tuesday calling for passage of AB 612. The full City Council hasn't taken a position on the legislation. Cedillo argued that the legislation would hold Uber, Lyft and other such companies to the same standards as taxicabs.
"We cannot tolerate an industry that's unregulated, unsafe and unacceptable," Cedillo said, echoing the slogan printed on the red shirts of taxi drivers standing behind him the steps of Los Angeles City Hall.
Uber spokeswoman Eva Behrend said that Uber drivers already have to pass a "rigorous" background check and have a "best-in-class insurance policy." She called AB 612 and another bill pending in the state Senate "thinly veiled attempts to end ride-sharing in the state."
"This legislation is not about safety or consumers; it’s about protecting entrenched Sacramento special interests from competition," Behrend said in a statement emailed to the Los Angeles Times.
Lyft spokeswoman Chelsea Wilson echoed her comments, saying Lyft has a $1-million commercial excess liability insurance policy that far exceeds that required for taxis in Los Angeles. The company also "screens out applicants for any violent crimes, sexual offenses, theft, property damage and felonies," Wilson said in an emailed statement.
As the battle over the proposed legislation continues in Sacramento, the California Public Utilities Commission, which has legal jurisdiction over ride-sharing companies, is in the process of tightening and clarifying its insurance requirements for the firms.
Current regulations call for $1 million of coverage that kicks in after a driver’s personal insurance hits its limit. Regulations also require criminal background checks and safety inspections of cars, among other things.
The L.A. City Council members' call for tighter rules comes a week after an Uber driver was accused of abducting a drunk woman and taking her to a hotel in Van Nuys. Prosecutors did not file charges against the man, saying there was insufficient evidence. Uber disabled the driver's account after learning of his arrest.