“Zimride. Uber. Getaround. It seems that every few months a new idea develops to make local transportation even more efficient and affordable for city dwellers. However, many of these so-called “new” transportation models are actually just variations on three basic services that have been offered – and effectively regulated – for decades.
Car Rental: When an individual or business permits consumers to temporarily use vehicles it owns in exchange for payment, that’s car rental. Regardless of whether the transaction is for an hour or a week, or whether it’s conducted in person or digitally, a consumer is entitled to state-approved disclosures and protections when renting a vehicle.
Ride-Sharing: When multiple individuals find each other, and agree to share the cost of their trip, that’s ride-sharing. This service continues to be regulated at the state level by minimum automobile insurance, private passenger vehicle safety and personal driver’s license requirements. If a rented or leased vehicle is involved, the state’s rental and leasing regulations also apply.
For-Hire Vehicles: When consumers pay a for-profit third-party for a ride between two points, they’re using a for-hire vehicle. An organization or person being paid to transport others has a unique set of obligations, the most important of which is public safety. For example, state taxicab regulations historically have focused on safe vehicles and competent drivers.
So what’s really “new?” The increasingly technology-driven way consumers engage in ride matching, a.k.a. the process of connecting individuals to other individuals or businesses for one of the above services. In my opinion, ride matching alone doesn’t necessarily require regulation. But some policymakers believe transportation network companies, which use technology-based systems to conduct ride matching for a fee, likely do.
That’s why it’s critical to look beyond the mechanism for arranging the transportation and identify the actual type of service being provided, so the public, legislative and legal debates – from California to Pennsylvania – are as well informed as they are provocative. We’ll be exploring this topic further during the City Transit 411: Urban Myths & Urban Mobility panel at SXSW Eco. I hope you can join us.