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Uber, Lyft may find devil in details of new rules

SANTA FE, N.M. — Some of the new rules that state regulators approved on Wednesday to help ride-sharing services Uber and Lyft operate legally in New Mexico could in reality lead to more conflicts with those companies.

The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission voted 4-1 to approve amendments to the Motor Carrier Act to allow transportation network companies — or ride-booking companies — to operate as “specialized passenger services” that operate under rules different from those for taxis.

Unlike taxis, which offer commercial transportation services with company-owned cars and pre-established tariffs, the ride-booking companies say they simply provide mobile apps so drivers with cars can connect with people seeking rides. The companies own no vehicles, employ no drivers and don’t transport passengers, leading Uber and Lyft to reject the state’s Motor Carrier Act as inapplicable to them. Consequently, both companies have functioned without operating permits since last spring.

On Wednesday, however, the PRC declared in a unanimous vote that it does have authority to regulate the services under the Motor Carrier Act. Four of the five commissioners went on to approve new, special rules.

Most are fairly simple and noncontroversial, such as requiring that ride-sharing cars post PRC-assigned identification numbers for passengers to see, that apps include contact information for customers to make complaints, and that vehicles affiliated with ride-sharing companies be inspected annually by a certified inspector.

But at least two new rules may prove difficult for Lyft and Uber to accept. One requires that each vehicle be covered by $1 million in insurance from the moment an app is turned on by drivers seeking passengers. The other is that drivers provide a cost estimate for rides before passengers get in a car.

Both Lyft and Uber have declined to comment on the new rules, which haven’t been published. “We have not yet seen the final version of the guidelines and won’t be able to provide further comment until we do,” Lyft spokeswoman Chlesea Wilson said.

But state Rep. Monica Youngblood, R-Bernalillo, who sponsored a bill this year to create new rules that passed the House but died in the Senate, said the insurance and tariff rules may be problematic.

“I have my concerns,” Youngblood told the Journal. “I’ve been told the insurance and tariffs could be issues, but we’ll have to see.”

In contrast to the PRC’s new rules, Youngblood’s bill would have established a “minimal” insurance requirement once an app is turned on, and then a $1 million requirement only after a passenger boards a car. As for tariffs, ride-sharing services don’t have them. Rather, they make “suggested donations” for drivers.

Commissioner Valerie Espinoza opposed the new rules as unfair to established taxi services and because they don’t necessarily guarantee safety for passengers. TNC drivers, for example, won’t be required to get drug tests unless they have an accident.

“We have to wait for somebody to die before a driver gets a drug test,” Espinoza said. “How does that protect people?”

Commissioners supporting the rules, however, said they felt obligated to act since the Legislature failed to do so.

gave Uber and Lyft an unfair advantage.

“We’ve been following the rules for more than 40 years,” Hindi said. “We’re a small company with 50 drivers, and they are multimillion-dollar businesses. Why do they get new rules?”

Lyft spokeswoman Chelsea Wilson said company representatives had not seen the final version of the New Mexico guidelines and she couldn’t provide further comment until then.

In a statement after the vote, Uber spokeswoman Taylor Patterson said: “We look forward to working with the PRC and are hopeful they are committed to bringing ridesharing to New Mexico with regulations that recognize this innovative business model.”

The legal status of Uber and Lyft had been in limbo since they began offering services in the state last year. The businesses say the state’s Motor Carrier Act doesn’t apply to them because neither operates as a commercial taxi business. Rather, they offer an online service that allows people with cars to connect with people seeking rides.

However, commissioners voted Wednesday that ride-sharing services fell under that state’s motor special services regulation and thus were subjected to regulations. The decision came after state lawmakers failed to pass a bill that would have clarified rules that would have allowed Uber and Lyft to operate amid old laws.

Commissioners were divided on drug-testing requirements for ride-booking drivers and voted 3-2 to require testing only after accidents.

Last year, the commission ordered Lyft to cease operations in Albuquerque, where the company had launched its service. A district judge in Santa Fe refused to enforce the commission’s order, allowing the company to operate in the capital city.

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