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Targeted By SAPD, Lyft Ride Service Will Still Be Seen Around San Antonio

Flickr user Garrett Heath of SA Flavor

San Antonio Police Chief William McManus announced Wednesday that drivers for the company Lyft were breaking a city ordinance and would be arrested if caught.

The taxi-like program works by matching drivers to people needing rides through their app. It launched in San Antonio less than a week ago.
The city outlined their concerns in a recent email to TPR:

  • That they place our public in potential danger since we don’t know who these drivers are or have done any kind of background check on them.
  • That it’s a public safety concern as they’re vehicles are not regulated and we don’t know if they meet operational standards.
  • That their fees for this service are NOT regulated through city standards and the customer may be charged exorbitant fees.
  • This leaves the customer with NO recourse since they’ve circumvented our ordinance.
  • That their drivers are NOT drug tested as regulated drivers.
  • And that their drivers DON’T get tested for geographical knowledge of our city.

Lyft drivers were still operating in San Antonio as of today. 
Let's take a ride

The pink mustache draped across the hood of Roger Gary's newish Ford Focus sticks out and identified my ride.

"I guess we stirred up some controversy is why you want to interview me," Gary said.

This was the easiest interview I ever set up in my life. I downloaded the Lyft app, agreed to Lyft's terms, entered my phone and credit card number and clicked on the button that alerted Lyft drivers to my request.

While no one was available for the first hour I was signed in, once someone became available, Gary arrived in 11 minutes.

Gary has silver hair. He doesn't tell me his age, but said he draws social security. He's a vacation promoter, or someone who helps you find good deals on alternative travel. I ask him what he thinks of McManus' concerns.

"I think he hasn't investigated us to see what we are doing or he wouldn't make those allegations," said Gary.

Companies like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar don't adhere to taxi regulations in many cities and don't think of themselves as taxis. They call themselves "ride-share programs" and no money is kept in the car, relying on payment through the app.

California, where Lyft is based, rejected this claim and started looking at how to regulate them.

San Antonio's taxi ordinance doesn't allow rides for pay unless your company and drivers adhere to regulations: inspections of cars, additional insurance, background checks, etc.

Both Uber and Lyft announced recently they would increase insurance for their drivers to address other communities concerns.

SAPD called these companies "rogue" operators at their Wednesday press conference and again in an email to TPR. They want citizens to be wary of them, saying they as people would have no recourse through the city if they get scammed.

As to safety, Gary said he was asked to authorize Lyft to do a background check and check his driver record.

"From what I understand we had over 1,000 applicants and they only approved around 100," said Gary

Gary was more concerned with the fares he picks up than his fellow drivers but not that concerned.

"He called me up and said, 'Well, i just got out of the mental hospital,' " said Gary about one of his fares. "I think he was actually just in detox," said Gary laughing.

Gary wasn't concerned about SAPD's threats to arrest drivers and doesn't expect to stop driving anytime soon.

"I've been ticketed before," he said.

SAPD said they aren't above posing as riders in order to ensnare drivers. Violating the ordinance comes with a fine of no more than $500.

For their part, Lyft emailed a public statement to the press:

We are in an exploratory phase in San Antonio with Lyft Pioneer, a program that allows new users to take free rides on the Lyft platform. We’ve already seen a very positive response from San Antonio community members, who see Lyft as a safe, affordable and reliable transportation option. 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.

Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org and on Twitter at @paulflahive