Lyft Is Leaving November 20, But Will Apparently Be Operating Illegally Until Then

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Bro. Do you even Lyft?

Should your answer still be yes, you may want to get legal with the city.

While Lyft may not be leaving Houston until November 20, that doesn't mean their drivers can continue to operate. Not legally, anyway. Not without complying with the new city regulations.

Here's the deal. The Lyft app may still be up and running, but the company does not have permission from the city for its drivers to operate sans license. So, should you be picking up passengers with the Lyft app without having a permit from the city, you're doing so illegally.

And if you're caught driving that ride-share red-handed, without getting that pesky drug test, warrant check or (more extensive) background check, you're going to be cited. Or your car could be impounded, which is not going to be fun. Not even sort of.

You see, under the new regulations, a ride-share driver who picks up a passenger without being licensed is violating the new regulations.

And yes, that means you're violating the ordinance even if Lyft is still letting you operate.

And the penalties for violating the ordinance are stiff. The city's enforcement authority has a number of options, including the ability to impound vehicles operating without a permit. But even if the city doesn't take your car, you can still be issued plenty of citations.

In fact, each time you're caught can lead to about six or seven citations, which means those suckers can rack up quickly, should you be caught multiple times.

As of Thursday, 1,811 citations have been issued since August, and four cars have been impounded, according to Lara Cottingham, the Deputy Assistant Director with the COH Administration and Regulatory Affairs Department.

And it's not just the drivers who run the risk of getting cited for the two-week stay, either. Lyft is taking a risk, too. Under the new ordinance, Lyft has to have a permit with the city to continue business -- and as of Thursday, they didn't.

We asked Lyft if they'd warned their drivers about the possibility of being cited while the app remains open, considering the potential issues that may plague those rogue drivers. We also asked if the company was concerned about being cited for not having a permit.

Oh, and we asked why it looks like Lyft is continuing to post ads looking for drivers on Houston Craigslist, including one that just went up Thursday morning, if they were leaving November 20. It seems odd that they'd be actively recruiting people to drive for Lyft in Houston for a whole 14 days.

Here's what Chelsea Wilson, Lyft's public policy communications manager, had to say:

"We understand this decision will place many drivers in a difficult position and wanted to give them at least two weeks notice in order to help them begin to plan for a pause in operations. In the case of a citation, we will respond immediately to provide support and cover the costs of the citation and any necessary legal assistance."

Well, that clears it up.

Wilson did say that Lyft will be focusing on places like Austin and D.C., where the rules are -- according to Lyft -- more "commonsense."

"Lyft is investing further and focusing our efforts in cities where elected officials have taken a different approach, adopting commonsense rules that allow ridesharing to grow while protecting public safety - cities like Austin and Washington, D.C.," said Wilson.

Lyft may find Houston's regulations to be nonsense, but the city contends those regulations are fair, and are focused on safety.

Those background checks by the third-party vendor that Lyft says are more extensive than the ones the city is mandating? Well, they simply aren't adequate, insists Cottingham.

The state DPS fingerprint checks have to check all 50 states, and they go back 10 years, rather than 7, which is as far back as the third-party background checks Lyft uses go.

And that drug test? Well, like it or not, the city's just not going to compromise. They want to know the driver is safe to drive the public around, says Cottingham.

The city has compromised in a number of other ways, though. Those 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. office hours Lyft was complaining about? Well, they've been extended to accommodate drivers with other jobs.

The office is now open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., says Cottingham, and the vehicle inspections, fingerprint background checks, and just about everything but the drug test and physical can be done there too.

But, should a person choose, the city has said it's fine to get an inspection at a mechanic, too. The driver will just have to fork over the cash to do so.

There's also the option of getting a 30-day provisional license, if a driver is not ready to fork over the $41 for the background check but has one on file with their rideshare company, according to Cottingham.

They'll still have to submit the rest of their paperwork, but it gives them the option of more time on the DPS check.

But even with the streamlined process and plenty of fair warning to drivers, Cottingham says they've only had about 40 drivers itching to get legal. So, should those thousands of other Houston rideshare drivers not materialize, the city will have plenty of time on its hands to crack down.

Lyft may be giving their drivers extra time on the app, but ultimately, the cost of driving without being licensed in Houston doesn't really seem to fall on Lyft. It falls on the driver, who is going to be screwed out of a job come November 20 anyway.

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