ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – Lyft, the ride-sharing smartphone app, is unequivocally not a taxi service, a company official stressed in court early Monday.
The Metropolitan Taxicab Commission (MTC) is trying to prove that it has jurisdiction over Lyft and similar services. Lyft has been under a temporary restraining order since April 21st.
Joe Okpoku, Lyft’s San Francisco-based manager of governmental relations, admitted the service has run into legal pushback in other cities, but said nowhere else has the app from enjoined from operating.
He declared: “We are not a taxi and we are not a dispatch service.”
In other words, Lyft believes the MTC has no authority.
Referencing a map headlined “Lyft Across the United States,” Okpoku described several instances, such as in Indianapolis and Atlanta, where local authorities, after consideration, declared a lack of jurisdiction over the service and allowed it to function. In Boston, the city never even questioned the company. Denver and Houston are examples of Lyft working with authorities to develop rideshare-specific guidelines, but in those cases the service was functional in the interim.
St. Louis is noted on the map as “pre-regulation.”
Okpoku said Lyft had discussed with St. Louis Mayor Slay the prospect of developing such guidelines and operating here in the interim. MTC spokesman Richard Callow tweeted in response: “Lyft witness possibly unaware of Metropolitan Taxicab Commission.”
Lyft, Okpoku testified, is a project to connect those who need a ride with people who have an extra seat in their car. He said 80 percent of seats in cars on the road are vacant.
Passengers give ‘donations’ based on a suggestion (and the driver has no idea what each rider gave). Drivers and passengers rate each other. Rides are voluntary on both sides, although the company does track in case of discrimination allegations.
“It is not just a sit in the back seat and get your ride model,” Okpoku said, describing the “cookie wars” and karaoke stunts that some drivers do to make it a fun experience. When he said that drivers customarily give ‘fist bumps’ to passengers, the attorney asked “what is a fist bump?”, to laughter in the courtroom.
A series of rapid-fire questions from the Lyft attorney aimed to emphasize the difference between a rideshare and a taxicab.
She asked Okpoku if Lyft owns vehicles, employs drivers, books rides in advance or paints its cars with a livery. The answers were all ‘no.’ Furthermore, Lyft cars cannot be hailed on the street, do not sit at stands, are not dispatched from a garage or drive a route.
Slides on a projection screen laid out the steps for becoming a Lyft driver, including background and vehicle checks.
MTC attorney Neil Bruntrager shouted “Where’s the policy?!” when Okpoku described coverage the company provides its drivers as well as a much-publicized agreement pending with MetLife.
Lyft attorneys agreed to provide the policy, so long as it be sealed because of “business sensibilities.”
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