UPDATED Lyft Threatens to Leave Houston, Because $62 Is Just Way Too Steep to Make Sure Its Drivers Aren't Criminals

Your commute's about to get a little less mustache-y.
Your commute's about to get a little less mustache-y.

See below for comments from Chelsea Wilson, Lyft's public policy communications manager.

Citing "expensive" new citywide regulations that mandate drug testing, fingerprinting and background checks for drivers, Lyft, one of the two app-based companies operating in Houston, says it would rather close up shop than comply.

The city's new requirements, set to take effect November 4, will require Houston applicants to use a state fingerprint-based background check company, rather than the online background check system that Lyft currently uses. Drivers must also submit to a warrant check, be drug-tested and give the city their personal information.

While many of the new regulations mirror the safety checks already in place for Lyft drivers, the company says the expense of the new screenings -- a whopping $62 -- is too much to ask of contractors who consider their ride-sharing a hobby or side job.

Besides, the current online background checks are sufficient, according to Lyft, so there's no need for further regulation. Well, let's explore that, shall we?

Since so-called ride-sharing services like Lyft and Uber do not comply with established taxicab regulations -- which are essentially what the City of Houston is now asking for -- they use "do-it-yourself" third-party background checks, which are cheaper and less effective.

And those checks are not even comparable to the fingerprint method required of cab drivers. In fact, background checks from Uber, Lyft's direct competitor, have resulted in two convicted felons discovered driving for its "ridesharing" division uberX. In the first case, an uberX driver facing a second felony conviction allegedly assaulted a passenger.

In a second case, the Chicago Tribune discovered a convicted felon driving for uberX.

Some ride-sharers offer anecdotal evidence of the poor policies in place at companies like Lyft. Take the tale of a woman on Valleywag, for example.

The Lyft customer recalled a bizarre encounter in which a driver -- more than a week after giving her a ride, mind you -- began sending text messages that began sorta normal -- "sorry if it was awkward that I asked to get together" -- and very quickly escalated to the far side of crazy. Texts like "why did you ignore my messages?" from a ride-share driver are hardly the only issue, though.

Check out the website Who's Driving You for a shitstorm of ride-share crazy. It compiles horrible anecdotes about ride-share creepers, like the Uber driver named Jigneshkumar Patel. Patel was charged with misdemeanor battery after a passenger said he asked her to sit in the front seat, and then began fondling her.

And in Los Angeles, a 26-year-old woman woke up in a hotel next to a shirtless Uber driver named Frederick Dencer. A bouncer had asked Dencer to take the intoxicated woman home, and apparently he decided to take advantage of the situation by kidnapping the woman and taking her to a fucking hotel, where she woke up next to him. He was arrested and charged with kidnapping because, well, duh.

Looks like those online background checks are working, guys. And when you factor in the insurance issues, the shady "surge" prices and the like, it all just seems like one big, unregulated warning about what's to come.

Take all of that into account, and $62 really doesn't seem like that much to pony up to prove someone's not in a murdering mood, right?

Not to mention, when Lyft began operating in Houston in February, it initially violated the city's existing paid-ride rules. City Council opted to revise the rules August 6, despite protests from local cab drivers, to allow companies like Uber and Lyft to operate legally until the November 4 changes.

Ride-share companies operating in Houston were also made aware of the impending regulations in August, giving the companies three months to get legal. Three months -- Lyft had three months to pull this -- but it's coming a week before the rules go into place.

Vaughn Chung, 22, a Lyft driver who started working for the company in August, says he received a mass email Wednesday notifying drivers of the company's decision to halt service in Houston.

"They knew these regulations were coming, but it was so last minute," said Chung. They could have done a better job with that."

And should Lyft close its app-based doors, Chung isn't so sure the drivers will even follow suit.

"I won't be surprised if there are rogue drivers still working for the company," said Chung.

Sounds safe.

Update November 3, 2014 at 2:30 p.m.: Chelsea Wilson, Lyft's public policy communications manager, insists the expense of new screenings -- $62 -- is not the primary reason Lyft is pulling out of Houston as new city regulations are set to kick in. Rather, Lyft is concerned about the "onerous requirements" passed by the city mandating drug-testing and finger-printing of drivers, which would require, as Wilson put it, "multiple trips to city offices that are only open M-F." These regulations "would make it nearly impossible for someone who works a full-time job to go through the process and go far beyond the $62 cost to drivers," Wilson wrote in an email.

In addition, Wilson says Chung's speculation that some drivers might go "rogue" as Lyft pulls out is "inaccurate." "If you opened the app in Houston, you would not be able to request a Lyft and no drivers would be able to be contacted through the app," she says.


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