SANTA FE — The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission decided on Wednesday to take no action against individual drivers who provide rides to customers through the ride-sharing service Lyft Inc.
The PRC was considering sanctions against three drivers for violating the state’s Motor Carrier Act for providing compensated transportation services without legal authority, but the commission voted 3-2 to drop those charges and instead pursue a cease and desist order against Lyft itself.
Commissioners ordered the company in May to cease operations in Albuquerque, where that company and Uber, a similar ride-sharing firm, launched services last April. The commission has not yet enforced the order against Lyft, which faces potential fines of up to $10,000 for each rule in the Motor Carrier Act that the PRC determines the company has violated – and for every day it continues to do so.
But the commission did open its first public hearing on Wednesday afternoon on Lyft’s contention that the Motor Carrier Act does not apply to the company, and that, as a result, the PRC lacks jurisdiction to impose a cease and desist order against it. The hearing stretched into the late afternoon.
Because of that hearing, the commission did decide in its regular weekly session in the morning to not only reject action against individual Lyft drivers, but to also table a separate staff request to approve a cease and desist order against Uber. Commissioners voted 4-1 to table that order.
Commissioners Valerie Espinoza and Ben Hall supported sanctions against the three Lyft drivers, who PRC staff had identified by matching receipts for service against those individuals’ license plate numbers. Espinoza and Hall said those who provide transportation services in their cars are breaking the law alongside Lyft, which provides the mobile device-based service that allows the drivers to connect online with potential customers.
But commissioners Pat Lyons, Karen Montoya, and Theresa Becenti-Aguilar were uncomfortable taking action against individuals.
“I don’t like that idea,” said Commissioner Pat Lyons. “We should deal straight with the companies.”
Commissioner Karen Montoya called it an “equity issue.”
“These people are just trying to make a living,” she said. “New Mexico is in dire need of jobs.”