Uber and Lyft face an uncertain in Virginia after choosing to defy orders from the Department of Motor Vehicles to stop operating last week. Both companies say they are going to work with the government to try to change the laws to accommodate them and other ride-share services, but that’s a long, uphill battle and in the meantime, Uber and Lyft will have to deal with continued attempts by Virginia to shut them down. Police operations, fines and civil penalties from the DMV and other hazards may be the new normal for any ride-share driver venturing into the Commonwealth for the foreseeable future.
Virginia hasn’t said yet if it plans to step up enforcement of the law against Uber and Lyft, but it has plenty of models in other places to look to for ideas. The very nature of the Uber app has led to tickets and fines from undercover police in Boston, while in Miami, cops have been pulling sting operations on Lyft drivers, arranging rides and then getting the car pulled over moments after completing the transaction. If that sounds weirdly like a prostitution bust, well it’s not entirely dissimilar in tactics. Although Uber and Lyft have paid all the fines for the drivers and Lyft is paying for attorneys to represent the drivers in Florida, it’s still enough to make any ride-share operator at least a little leery of crossing the border.
“They told us not to worry about it too much, but I don’t want to even deal with the possibility,” said a Lyft driver who requested anonymity. “I mean, would you want to deal with Virginia cops if you don’t have to?”
Clashes with state and local governments are a pretty common feature of ride-share experiences around the country right now, but that hasn’t stopped investors and users from using them more and more.
“We can’t escape the fact that Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar exist,” said Joseph Kopser, CEO of transit option aggregator RideScout in an email. “Instead of banning them like Virginia did [last week], let’s turn the conversation towards the people and roll up our sleeves to make things better. Public-private partnerships with local governments and companies like Lyft, Sidecar and RideScout are necessary to provide the safe, legal and reliable transportation options the people of Virginia–and around the country–want and need.”
It is a bit unusual that the orders are coming from the state level. Most of the other regulatory problems ride-share companies deal with come from city or county-level regulations. That makes it worse in some ways for the drivers but, assuming the state actually passes new regulations that legalize the businesses, it could smooth everything over across a much wider area than a mere municipal-level change.
Either way, don’t be too surprised if you have trouble getting an Uber or Lyft driver to pick you up or take you to Virginia for a while. Especially if you give off a “cop vibe” according to the interviewed driver.
“If it’s one or two guys alone and they act sketchy I might not want to pick them up,” he said. “I guess I just really hope they figure this out soon so it can go back to normal for me.”
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