Ride-sharing business launches despite warnings from Salt Lake City

Published: Friday, Oct. 9 2015 1:56 a.m. MDT

A Lyft car drives in San Francisco in 2013. (Jeff Chiu, Associated Press) A Lyft car drives in San Francisco in 2013. (Jeff Chiu, Associated Press)

SALT LAKE CITY — Sporting a fuzzy, pink mustache on her car's front bumper for the first time, Angie Palmer can't help but share her excitement.

"I've already met a lot of awesome people," Palmer said. "Our drivers are hilarious. We've got so many things in store for Salt Lake."

Lyft works as a third party, linking drivers with people who need a ride through their smartphone app. Passengers are located through GPS, and the nearest available driver is sent. Money is exchanged through credit card information that is stored in the program.

"It's like running our own business," Palmer said. "I don't know about you, but I haven't jumped into a taxi with a friend. That's what Lyft is about. It's your friend with a car."

Still, David Everitt, chief of staff for Salt Lake City, said Lyft will not be exempt from existing laws and regulations regarding ground transportation businesses.

"It's the city's responsibility to enforce the ordinances that are on the books right now," Everitt said.

Drivers have to be licensed by the city, and undergo vehicle inspections and background checks. Operators who take people to and from Salt Lake City International Airport also have to be vetted by the Transportation Security Administration.

"There are significant public welfare concerns," Everitt said. "Basic public safety, customer service and consistency issues are reasons that licensing is in place."

Everitt says city leaders look forward to working with more options like Lyft, but they won't look the other way when it comes to following the law.

"It will depend on what the situation is," he said. "The city has secret shoppers, and we also operate on a complaint basis."

Trent Woolson, owner of Express Shuttle, believes customers should be wary of using services like Lyft.

"Seems like maybe a different experience each time that you use the service," Woolson said. "It would be difficult to manage the reliability there."

Woolson points out that his drivers undergo regular training. Vehicles are maintained by a maintenance shop on-site.

"We have 50 vehicles in our fleet that cover and look out for each other, and dispatchers monitoring their progress," he said. "We're accountable to our customers. We have a physical location. You can come find us."

A Lyft representative said their drivers undergo strict background checks and vehicle inspections. They're also covered by $1 million in additional liability insurance.

While they wouldn't disclose how many drivers Lyft currently has in Utah, representatives of the company said they are still looking for more applicants. Lyft users will be able to ride for free during the first two weeks of service.

Palmer is hopeful people will embrace Lyft just as she has.

"Really, it's a green initiative," she said. "It will only boost the community here in Salt Lake, and it will be really great."

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