Editor’s note: Lyft is one of two popular ride-sharing services (Uber being the other) that have faced significant opposition from traditional competitors such as taxi companies. Governments around the country have attempted to enforce regulations on them. Libertas Institute’s president recently got a ride using Lyft and documented his experience here.
The woman interviewed in this article is one of several Utah drivers who have been issued extremely costly citations in recent weeks for offering a ride to a consenting passenger.
Libertas Institute: Tell us about yourself.
Amanda Wardell: I’ve lived in Salt Lake City for about three years. I’m a single mother of a seven-year-old daughter—her father’s rights were terminated, so I get no financial support from him. I’ve been the sole provider for her. I just finished school to get my massage therapy license, so hopefully that will give me some opportunities.
I worked as a health inspector in Texas for a few years, but when I moved to Utah I found a job with a private company which was up to 75% travel, so I was never home. My daughter’s grades were bad, she’s in trouble all the time. Not having me around, I just couldn’t do that anymore. So I had to switch fields, and I tried to find other jobs that didn’t require traveling so much, but I didn’t have any luck.
LI: What interested you in becoming a driver with Lyft?
AW: Lyft is pretty much amazing. It’s super flexible—you can drive whenever you have time and interest to do it. The money is good. I had a car and time, so it seemed like the easiest way to make money. I was approved as a driver right after they launched in Utah, so about three to four months now.
LI: What experiences in these few months stand out to you about your experience driving people around?
AW: They have all been fantastic experiences. I know others have had some crazy experiences, but that has never happened with me; I’ve never been freaked out or scared or anything like that. The people have been really nice.
LI: What led up to you getting the $6,500 citation from Salt Lake City?
AW: It wasn’t a total surprise, because another driver had been ticketed just before I was. It was more disappointing than anything, because we knew the laws were quite there for us, but it seems like the city just wants money or something.
There was no interaction with police or anything like that. You basically get a certified letter in the mail which says why they cited you and what the total is. [See a citation to a Utah Lyft driver here.] Then they start sending you collection notices—I’ve received two already, saying they’re going to take legal action if I don’t pay the $6,500 they’re demanding. [See the collection notice here.]
I have no idea who reported me, because they do a “secret shopper” strategy but they play along normally so you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. You don’t know until you get the ticket, and then look at what the destination was, and then realize that the guy you dropped off at Zupa’s, for example, was the one.
LI: Do you have any idea about how many others in Utah have been given these fines in recent weeks?
AW: There’s a Facebook group with a bunch of us drivers in it, and based on reports there, I’d say 5-10 at least. Of course, not all drivers are in that group, so there could be more.
LI: Did you know before you received the ticket that Lyft has a policy saying they’ll cover the costs?
AW: Yeah, absolutely. But it’s still definitely scary that I might be on the hook for it. Even though Lyft is always saying they have our back, it’s still my record. I have a lot of debt right now, and I don’t want my credit being affected by that, or any judgments against me. And I don’t want it to affect my ability to get a business license for my massage therapy license, because that will have ruined the $15,000 and 7.5 months I just spent to go to school. So yeah, it’s frustrating that Salt Lake City has done this.
LI: Why is the citation you received so costly compared to other cities that are only imposing fines amounting to a few hundred dollars?
AW: I have no idea. On the citation we get, it lists six violations including not having a business license, taxi endorsement, proper insurance, an inspection, etc.
LI: Do you think Salt Lake City is wrong? Why shouldn’t you, as a driver, be required to jump through those hoops?
AW: We’re not a taxi service. We’re a ride-share. There’s nothing in the law about ride-sharing. They’re trying to impose the taxi rules on is, but they don’t apply to us.
LI: Why do you suppose Lyft is having so many problems with governments and their regulations?
AW: I don’t know. I would like to think that it’s not because the government just wants all the money they can get from us, but that’s kind of how it’s looking. Everybody just seems to want a piece of this unregulated pie.
LI: Do you think the taxi services are looking to be shielded from competition?
AW: Yeah, maybe. I think it might be a lot of those things. I think a lot of things are feeding into it. But this fight against competition doesn’t seem fair to me; they want it their way, and don’t want things to change or get better.
LI: Do you think the law should be changed or clarified in Utah to allow drivers such as yourself to operate without the licensure, inspections, etc.?
AW: Yeah, I think there is a happy medium that can be reached. I don’t know that ticketing us is the right way to go. They need to change somehow, and I think Lyft and the city could come to an agreement on what to do.
We have pretty stringent standards that we have to meet. There have been lots of people who want to drive who are rejected by Lyft over simple things that happened 8-10 years ago, for example—even things not necessarily related to driving.
LI: So you feel Lyft can sort of take care of its own, and protect public safety through their own screening processes and policies?
AW: Yeah, definitely.
LI: Do you ever feel threatened or scared when picking up a passenger?
AW: No, never. It might be a simple way to look at it, but everything with Lyft is traceable. Passengers have their credit card information stored in the app, they’ve connected their Facebook accounts and things like that. It’s different from a random person hailing a taxi on the side of the road. If you’ve gone to the effort to share your information with Lyft, you’re less of a threat. Plus, we drivers have the right to refuse somebody at any time, or stop a ride at any time if we feel unsafe or whatever.
LI: Lyft can only pay $6,500 tickets for so long. How do you envision their future in Utah?
AW: I’m an optimist. I think both parties will come to an agreement that’s beneficial for everybody. It’s a hard question, though. I’ll drive for Lyft as long as I’m able to—I love it, and it’s a good source of income for me.
LI: A lot of people haven’t yet heard of Lyft or other similar services. Why should they consider using this type of service?
AW: It’s cheaper and you’ll have more fun with the driver. You’ll be able to ride in a regular car rather than a clunky shuttle or taxi. It’s an experience, and you’ll have a good time!