But with that ease of use, there are several murky areas that could in the end negatively affect the public.
Public and non-profit ridesharing or commuter-services programs all across the country have been part of the national transportation program for decades and depend on federal and local funding for the sake of the public good. For all these years, ridesharing has been defined as: people sharing rides to their destinations through organized carpool and vanpool programs whose users typically share the costs of those rides. They also tend to, by extension, promote public transit, biking, walking, and other congestion-reducing modes of travel.
The innovation happening in transportation now is exciting, but companies such as UberX, Lyft, and Sidecar that are calling themselves, or being labeled by the media as,“ridesharing” is causing negative repercussions for the true ridesharing programs.
First, because these companies provide services similar to taxis, wherein drivers are working for profit rather than simply seeking a contribution towards the driving expenses, many local and state governments are considering regulating “ridesharing” somewhat like taxis. The unintended consequences of such regulations could be to make carpooling and vanpooling by individuals virtually illegal or unfeasible because of higher insurance requirements or background checks.
Second, members of Congress are confusing the new profit-making ventures, which often have extensive private funding, with the long-standing public-purpose ridesharing agencies and threatening to cut public funds for all ridesharing.
Both of these actions could bring down the whole national ridesharing system, cutting hundreds of local agencies and affecting millions of commuters.
A battle is playing out across the country between the taxi industry and these new ventures, which the California Public Utility Commission recently defined as “transportation network companies.” It is a complicated issue in which the public-purpose ridesharing/commuter-services industry would prefer not to be embroiled. Nevertheless, it is precipitating regulations all over the country that could unintentionally have negative consequences for the ridesharing industry if the definition of ridesharing is not clarified appropriately.
If these companies receive the legislative designation under the current ridesharing laws, taxis (and even other businesses or individuals) may seek to become dangerous and unregulated travel options, drivers with personal rather than commercial insurance at companies like UberX could have the consequence of raising everybody else’s auto insurance, and the fear of whose car you are entering when using these services could become much more serious.
The Association for Commuter Transportation (ACT) is dedicated to expanding options for commuters. We understand the value of the services these companies provide, but we are also determined to defend traditional ridesharing. ACT has weighed in on several instances in which state or local governments are working to regulate this new class of mobility options.
The point ACT makes is simple, do not define these new companies as ridesharing, and in the development of new regulations, specifically exempt ridesharing. ACT has expressed it is willing to work with these new mobility companies on research to identify the public good associated with their services. From this, lower forms of regulation or exemptions might be derived.
In Arlington County, Virginia, county officials have heard that UberX drivers, in particular, are not familiar with the area, suggesting that they are coming from other places to work their shifts. Further, a proliferation of unregulated vehicles plus the need for regulated taxicab drivers to work longer hours in the more competitive environment may actually be increasing rather than reducing overall driving trips (hence, doing little to relieve traffic congestion) even while they may limit the need for a personal car for some individuals.
Mobility Lab will be examining these issues leading up to a conference it is co-sponsoring with ACT, TransitCenter, and UCBerkeley Transportation Sustainability Research Center called the Innovation in Mobility Public Policy Summit.
Photo by BlaBlaCar