Wednesday, August 6, 2014 | 29 comments

Lyft driver in Utah cited $6,500 for providing a service


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!


21 comments
Johnny
Johnny

I took early retirement to help the elderly an disabled not knowing Lyft/Uber were even out there. It wasn't that big of a deal to register with the state, get permit, buy license and insurance, do the city criminal background check, and vehicle inspection. The cost to get started was $330.00 to satisfy city ordinance.

I have the required badge, vehicle decals, it was just so simple.

Now I know I can assist anyone out there free from worries about getting ticketed.

I really don't know if the $6500 tickets will be paid by these companies but I sure as heck wouldn't put my trust in anyone making those claims without a written document specifically stating so.

I can now apply with Lyft/Uber and after I drop off an elderly/disabled passenger add a passenger on board for the ride home, constantly making money.

Just spend the little extra it will pay for itself without the headaches. If anyone out there wants a good insurance agent, get back at me $2 million GL w auto cost me $1600 a year.

billdeter
billdeter

Hi I need some guidance on this ride share issue. Just clarification on what is required and how to go about it thanks Bill

captnjp6199
captnjp6199

I live in SLC and unfortunately I'm not surprised in the least. This sort of reactionary, heavy handled stuff seems to happen a lot in this State. It's one more blemish on our beautiful State's negative persona (politics and laws), and the vision that people latch onto when you mention, "Utah."

AmySchiller
AmySchiller

If it's a business this is only so no one can compete.  It's disgusting what companies do to have no competition.  They wonder why nobody has jobs, complain about them not having jobs, and then do things like this to keep people from working.  This is the stupid way this country works these days.  They keep people from working or don't let people work for them and then they get mad and take work away from them because it might take away money from their business.  Disgusting--

all of this petty crap.

DaleBennion
DaleBennion

@AmySchiller Night is day and black is white!  It's perfectly legal for a person to stand begging in a street corner with a sign telling a lie.  But lift a hammer or give someone a ride without a government permit is illegal?  You're right Amy, it's disgusting!

Thoughtful Defender
Thoughtful Defender

1) Trial by Jury: The 7th Amendment stipulates that in any common law suit where the value in controversy exceeds $20 has the right to a jury trial. While this is considered a "fine" and not a common law suit, that can be remedied by this lady suing the city for the fine plus court costs, thus turning the tables on the city and getting a jury involved.


2) Since each rider has consented to the ride by contracting with the Lyft service, the driver should only have to require each passenger to sign a "waiver" indicating they accept the risks associated with sharing a ride with another person who participates in the Lyft system, and that they will hold harmless any and all circumstances that arise from getting this ride.  All disputes must be handled with Lyft and NOT with the driver.  (Obviously, I am not a lawyer, but the idea is to have each passenger waive any actions possible for getting a ride so long as the driver remains within the bounds of providing a ride.  Lyft should get a competent lawyer to manage this part.)


3) The entrapment angle should be viable in my opinion.  The undercover agent contracted with Lyft, not with the specific driver.  If the driver obeys all driving laws, they have not committed a crime since there are no laws that actually define the difference between a Ride-Share versus a Taxi service.  The agent is entering the vehicle of their own free will, and they chose the Lyft service rather than calling a taxi to make the journey.

Looking at it another way, since the agent can apparently cause the driver to get fined in this manner, why can't the driver take action against the agent (impose extra "fees" for personal attack, etc)?  Because if they did, the city would cover and pay those fees on behalf of their agent such that the agent would have no personal liability for the work they performed.  If the agent is acting on behalf of the city, then the driver is acting on behalf of the service.  The driver should have a clear defense in court (but, you say, this isn't IN COURT - and that is the point, it should be, but the city is trying to side-step it by calling it "fines" or "fees").


4) The "Taxicab" definition doesn't quite hold water.  This woman was driving her car, being paid to drive (not paid for her car) from one place to another, and in the process to allow a passenger who consents to share the ride from point A to point B.  Her car being "for hire" was not what the service was selling.  They were selling the driver service.  So, for all the offended Taxi Services out there, there is a reasonable defense for this woman.  She doesn't advertise on her car that it is a Lyft vehicle and isn't selling her car's service.  Rather she is providing her driving services and the passenger accepted that service from the Lyft mechanism.  She doesn't collect any money from the rider and her only contractual agreement is with Lyft, not the passenger.  So the passenger cannot hold her personally liable and claim she is committing a crime by offering them a ride from A to B with her as the driver.


5) Finally, to the guy who wanted to avoid serving on the Jury and so used the chance to declare his prejudice in the way he did, may I say YOU ARE NOT HELPING THE CAUSE.  How can we curtail the problems within the legal system if we are unwilling to participate in it?  How can we have a jury of our peers if the only people who will sit on the jury are deadbeats (not meaning to offend those who fulfill the obligation faithfully)?  If everyone acted the way you did, then all that would be left is people who need the $18.  Would YOU want to be judged by someone who was only there for $18?  I didn't think so.


***

I'm sure many of you Taxi drivers or City personnel will take exception to my points, but a $6,500 "fine" or "fee" for a lady who is trying to keep food on the table for her 7 year old child and struggling to get a true career off the ground is deplorable.  If you really want to kill the Ride-Share industry, why not get the laws to stipulate those definitions and penalties FIRST, and then see that the new laws get enforced rather than crying foul because someone found a part of the system where they could make a few dollars.  (Just what we need, MORE laws on the books because someone didn't get their piece of someone else's pie.  More greed, more laws, and it isn't your pie anyways.)

legit
legit

Even as an independent driver, ride-share or what ever name you attach to it,  anyone offering rides and taking $ for this IS running a business(per Utah business lic.), and as such are required in the state of Utah (and, the appropriate city/county) to posses a business license.  They are simply independent cab driers for hire.  And, yeah, that makes it a business competing with taxi- services, senior ride services, city buses, etc.  But in doing so they should be subject to same licensure and safety protocol as other "ride" companies( ie., taxis).  Personally, to do this type of free-lance business, and not carry liability insurance for yourself and your auto/business is just stupid, and asking for trouble.  These folks are simply trying to evade state/city/county business licensing requirements, and can only offer fares on the cheap because they are not paying taxes, liability, or license fees. Once they get on par with being a legit business, by comparison they will find out how they will need to bump their rates to be competitive and stay alive in fairly competing with other legit tax-paying ride businesses. This ain't baby-sitting, driving/ride sharing/taxing has huge safety risk issues associated with it. So, to those that fail to see the need for licensing, safety checks, etc., too bad. Suck it up, get licensed, and operate legitimately.  But, until then you can whine and complain all you want, and collect tickets to offset your stupidity,  while the rest of us independent business owners pay state business operating & licensing fees, and taxes legitimately. Welcome to the real world.

not that I have anything against entrepreneurship, just do it legitimately.

rave1stthe1st
rave1stthe1st

Let me see if I understand this correctly: People are paying Lyft and Lyft is paying drivers? The whole thing I think is that drivers who are sharing rides are supposed to not be making money sharing rides.  They are supposed to take turns giving rides paying for it out of their own pocket. Lyft is operating as a taxi company and pays their drivers a flat rate and that's why the drivers are being slapped with fines. Neither Lyft nor the drivers are licensed to serve as taxi drivers or insured to do so.

DaleBennion
DaleBennion

@rave1stthe1st  Article I, section 10 of the Constitution guarantees the right to contract.  As supposedly free people we have allowed Governments, Federal, State, and Local, to treat us like Serfs even to the point of requiring a license to be married!  I reject any law that disregards my natural rights, it's called "civil disobedience!" 

Republitarian
Republitarian

Too often governments use "protecting the public" as an excuse to "charge the public." 

Skyler Collins
Skyler Collins

I'd like to see Lyft and Uber match these tickets up with riders and ban their accounts. Also, if a driver asks the rider if they're with the city, is the rider allowed to lie (legally)? If not, drivers should start asking. If so, is that entrapment? The "government agent" is requesting the ride, which sounds like entrapment to me.

cboyack
cboyack moderator

@Skyler Collins Not sure the entrapement angle would work. To prove that in court you'd have to show that there was previously no intent to commit the "criminal" act. As Lyft drivers are openly/actively soliciting new drivers, that would fail.

DaleBennion
DaleBennion

"Hi,  I'm not a taxi service, it would be illegal for me to offer that service.  I'm helping my daughter out by selling her artwork to friends.  Could you help me out with $20 in exchange for this artwork?  (answer)  Hey, where did you say you were going?  .... I'm going that way, I would be happy to drop you off there at no charge."


Would this work?

DaleBennion
DaleBennion

So the remedy here might be an exchange of value outside of the ride.  Maybe offer a pencil for sale, maybe for $20.  Or your child's artwork.  Then you could give this person a ride for FREE!

DaleBennion
DaleBennion

What a ridiculous amount for a fine!  Even if it is a crime, a $25 fine would be equivalent punishment!  So speaking of civil disobedience, this woman needs to take this to jury trial and hopefully there will be some liberty minded people on the jury.  When being selected out of a jury pool for jury duty, I recommend that people LIE when being asked if they will agree to judge the case on the facts and let the law come from the bench (the Judge/Statutes.)  This is the only chance us serfs have to stand up to a corrupt system.  


Shane
Shane

There is no court and no jury. This is a civil fine and not a criminal matter. You get to appeal to the same people who issued fine to begin with. This is the same crap cab drivers have to deal with from Salt Lake City. Only option is to shame them into doing the right thing.

YourMom
YourMom

@DaleBennion Yes, it's called Jury Nullification.  I told the truth on purpose during jury selection because I didn't have time to serve.  All I had to do was mention jury nullification and corrupt legal system in the same breath and the lawyers and judge threw me right out.  I even got my 18 bucks in the mail.

Sheryl
Sheryl

Lying defeats the purpose of justice AND liberty to say nothing of our system. The article does not explain the diffedence between the "ride share" and "taxi". What is the diffedence? They sound the same. Additionally, she knew going in what the risks were. If she is working for a company then the citation should go to the company; which makes me suspect that they is actually sub-contracted. If the latter she would indeed need a business license, which are relatively cheap. Perhaps the company should provide some business training similar to other companies such as CitiGroup does for its mortgage, insurance, and securities sectors, all of these which are paid by straight commission (1099). As to the fine, since she knew going in of the possibility, then it is not an injustice. And since the company knows of the reality of fines and promises to pay them--she has a contract stating such?--her beef is with the "ride share" company, not the city. Lasrly, if there is no sound basis for the fine, go to the city council.

Skyler Collins
Skyler Collins

@Sheryl I don't know SLC's definition of "taxicab" but Midvale's is here: http://www.codepublishing.com/ut/midvale/html/midvale05/Midvale0534.html

And says "“Taxicab” means any motor vehicle used for the purpose of transporting persons within the city for hire."


It's probably similar. A ride-share qualifies as a taxi-cab under every part of that definition except possibly "within the city". If the transport leaves the city, it's not longer a taxicab, but if it remains, it is, perhaps?

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