UPDATE: March 28, 2014, 4:15 p.m. Mayor Julian Castro came out with in support of Lyft this morning, despite objections from the San Antonio Police Department. He posted his support in Facebook and Twitter.
We can make Lyft, Uber and similar services work in San Antonio. They need to meet strong standards for safety and quality (insurance, driver background checks, etc.), but they should be part of the equation. Figuring that out will take some time, but we'll get it done. San Antonio is moving forward, not standing still.
We can make @lyft & @uber work in San Antonio. They'll need to meet strong safety/quality standards. SA is moving fwd, not standing still. — Mayor Julián Castro (@JulianCastro) March 28, 2014************* San Antonio Police Chief William McManus really doesn’t want you to get in cars with strangers, especially those taking part in the sharing economy. SAPD issued a cease and desist yesterday to Lyft less than one week after the ride-sharing platform launched in San Antonio. The company, which connects passengers with nearby drivers via its smartphone app, was ordered to suspend operations until it adheres to city’s taxi ordinances. Lyft drivers were also warned that they would be arrested for providing rogue taxi services, according to McManus. "You might be one of these drivers who is summoned for a ride, and you won't know who summoned you. It could be a police officer, and you'll be in trouble." Lyft, along with Uber and Sidecar, is one of a number of San Francisco-based start-ups looking to disrupt the taxi industry by providing an on-demand ride-sharing alternative. The companies have faced fierce opposition in a number of cities from municipal governments and established taxi industries for providing an alternative transportation marketplace that sidesteps regulations. In 2012, Heyride, a similar ride-sharing start-up, was ordered to suspend operations in Austin for violating city code. SAPD claims that Lyft presents a potential public threat by circumventing the strict regulations the city imposes on traditional taxi drivers. Operators are required to conduct background checks and drug tests on their employees. Regulated drivers must also register with the city and pass a test on their geographical knowledge of San Antonio. In addition, vehicles-for-hire are subject to inspection to ensure they meet operational standards, and city ordinances have established price controls and an official system of recourse for fare disputes. So while McManus claims the city’s taxi industry is a safe space where stand-up citizens take passengers to and fro while charging reasonable fares, the picture he paints for Lyft is far more sinister, one fraught with all sorts of stranger danger. "They are not regulated, and there is no advantage to getting into one of these cars, where you get into one of these cars and you don't know what their background is. The public is put in danger.” Somewhere in between those lines, Lyft provides a lawless hellscape where passengers with a death wish put themselves in situations that are rife with the potential for price-gouging, rape and murder. Not so, according to Lyft. (>>> next page) “We’ve already seen a very positive response from San Antonio community members, who see Lyft as a safe, affordable and reliable transportation option,” said Katie Daily, a spokesperson for the ride-sharing company. Lyft is currently in amidst a two-week exploratory phase under its Pioneer program, which began last Friday. The company is offering free rides to all new users during this period, after which it will calculate fares based on time and miles. Prior to launching in San Antonio, Lyft placed ads for drivers on Indeed.com and Craiglist. Lyft conducted background checks and interviews with candidates before hiring them to join its team of community drivers. Daily says Lyft was attracted to San Antonio for its reputation as a transportation innovator, noting the city’s B-Cycle program. The company seems unfazed by the opposition it faces from SAPD. “We’ve been impressed by city leaders’ commitment to innovation and sustainability, which is why we believe San Antonio is a great fit for Lyft. We look forward to continuing conversations with the city around Lyft’s peer-to-peer business model and rigorous safety standards that go above and beyond existing requirements for taxis and limos.” SAPD’s Ground Transportation Unit has an extended an opportunity to discuss the city’s conflict with Lyft, but maintains the company’s operations are illegal and unregulated. So while Lyft claims drivers can make $500 in a weekend, those drivers may need that money for bail.
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