This week, Kansas City officials have been hard at work trying to keep ridesharing out of the city of fountains. First, the city rushed through an ordinance requiring permits for vehicles taking “donations” (as Lyft does) for travel. Then, the city pursued an injunction against Lyft for operating in Kansas City.
Some city officials, like Assistant City Manager Rick Usher, have argued that Lyft simply needs to apply for the proper permits. Why didn’t Lyft think of that? Its drivers go through background checks, have insurance, and get their vehicles inspected. Why not go one step further and get permits? The reason Lyft has not done so is that Kansas City’s Livery and Taxicab regulations prohibit Lyft’s business model.
According to Kansas City ordinances, the definition of a livery vehicle is:
. . . a public six-passenger or less motor vehicle with driver included, for hire only by written agreement for exclusive use at a charge fixed in advance.
The livery classification was designed to encompass pre-arranged limo and premium sedan services. Lyft charges by both time and distance (not a fixed charge) and, of course, has no advance written agreements. In addition, the Kansas City taxicab code states that livery vehicles cannot:
. . . solicit passengers for transportation in a livery vehicle on any public way or at any public airport or operate a livery vehicle so as to cruise in search of patronage . . . no passenger shall be accepted for any trip in such vehicle without previous engagement for such trip at a fixed charge through the business office from which the vehicle is operated.
If Lyft’s drivers received livery permits, they could not drive around town for passengers, pick up passengers without existing agreements, or charge distance-based fares. Lyft’s business model would be impossible. Lyft’s drivers actually act more like taxis than livery vehicles, aside from the fact that they don’t use a taxi meter.
Unfortunately, taxicab regulations in Kansas City prohibit ridesharing companies’ drivers, such as Lyft’s, from obtaining taxi permits. These regulations include (but are not limited to):
- Permits are only given to cab companies with a minimum of 10 cars, not individuals with one car.
- The city has reached its 500 taxi permit limit, and will not issue more.
- Taxis must use meters with prices that the city sets.
The bottom line is that if Lyft drivers receive livery permits, they cannot operate as Lyft drivers, and if they are to be considered taxis, they cannot get permits, period. Telling Lyft that it can operate if its drivers just apply for licenses is like telling someone he or she can join a football game as long as he or she doesn’t step on the field. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide whether the rules of the game are designed to protect public safety, or whether they are meant to keep newcomers out.