Phone-App Provides Lifts in Spokane, Without Business License

By Paige Browning

Two national ride-share companies opened in Spokane in March, and the nationwide debate that follows them is just gassing up in Spokane. The companies Lyft (lift) and Uber are technically phone-apps, in which people request a ride and are picked by a driver using their own vehicle.
 
Every Lyft employee I have spoken with absolutely gushes over it. One of the head cheerleaders is Paige Thelen, the company’s spokesperson.
 
Thelen: “I mean the idea with Lyft is that you feel like you’re riding in the car with a friend. From the moment you hop into the car, you can often see how Lyft is more than just a ride. Drivers are members of the local communities, and they’ll often carry snacks or water. Passengers can choose their own music, charge their phone.”
 
The company is now in 60 cities. Thelen says they chose Spokane as part of a nationwide expansion because it has some of the friendliest people they had met.
 
Not everyone is so excited about Lyft or its upscale counterpart Uber. Bill Boomer is the spokesperson for the Spokane Taxi Association number 2, and owns Bill’s Friendly Rides.
 
Boomer: “Well first off they’re totally illegal.”
 
That’s a reflection of complaints nationwide. Boomer says the companies have no city or state license, drivers don’t have drivers for hire licenses, and the companies don’t pay labor and industry fees. And he says if the city doesn’t enforce it, his company won’t pay the fees either.
 
Boomer: “If they are gonna let Uber and Lyft operate with none of the license that we’re required to have, in October when we’re required to do all of our stuff, none of us are gonna do it.”
 
Spokane’s mayor and city council president say they have not formally addressed the topic yet, but expect discussion within the next two months about the licensing. Lyft and Uber spokespeople contend the company is a phone app, not transportation company.
 
The companies have been accused of not having adequate insurance, either, by people including the Idaho Insurance Director. But that’s one thing they have under control. College student Steve Porter is one of the founding drivers for Lyft in Spokane.
 
Porter: “We are required to have our own insurance, so I do have that.”
 
Thelen says Lyft has an insurance protection plan on top of that.
 
Thelen: “So, the first part of that protection plan is a commercial excess liability policy up to a million dollar limit. That covers driver liability for bodily injury or property damage of passengers or third parties. We also have excess un-insured and under-insured motorist coverage, up to a million dollars… for any damages caused by an un-insured or under-insured motorist who is at fault.”
 
Thelen, and Porter, say Lyft also has strong safety measures.
 
Porter: “For drivers wise, they do make us do a complete background check. The app tracks us GPS-wise, they know who we’re picking up because it’s linked up to Facebook... The phone knows exactly where we are at all times.”
 
The debate is raging harder in Seattle, where the companies have stalled a city ordinance that limits how many rideshare drivers can drive at a time. Thelen says they’re negotiating with Seattle’s mayor.
 
Copyright 2014 Spokane Public Radio
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