Give Someone a Ride, Get Arrested: San Antonio Threatens Lyft


As technologies like smartphones make communication quicker and easier, as techniques like user and supplier ratings make consumer choice and power stronger and more decentralized, as they all combine to help us use products like cars more efficiently to meet more human needs, as the "sharing economy" makes life better and easier for those who choose to use it—as all these great things happen, you can always count on the cops to come in and threaten to arrest people over it.

See the latest from San Antonio, Texas, and its WOAI news radio as "e-hailing" service Lyft tries to get involved in providing a donation-based ride service to the people of San Antonio:

San Antonio Police warned today that those on line car sharing apps like 'Lyft' and 'Uber' are illegal, and drivers who pick up passengers for cash risk being arrested.

  "You might be one of these drivers who is summoned for a ride, and you won't know who summoned you," [Chief of Police William] McManus warned.  "It could be a police officer, and you'll be in trouble."

  1200 WOAI news was first to report earlier this week that Lyft, which bills itself as 'your friend with a car,' is looking for drivers in San Antonio.

  McManus said he sent Lyft a 'strongly worded cease and desist letter' today, warning them not to set up operations in San Antonio unless they conform to taxi regulations.

  "I want to warn anybody in the city who may be tempted to use this service to be very very careful."

  Lyft says it is no different from a friend giving another friend a ride.  The passenger doesn't pay a fare, he or she gives a 'donation' to the driver.

  But McManus says no matter how you cut it, taking anybody anyplace on city streets for cash is a violation of the city's strict taxi ordinances.

  "The problem with this is, the public is put in danger," he said.  "You don't know who is going to show up, you don't know what the condition is that the car is in that you're going to get into."

Except that through the use of an app that allows both driver and passenger to see each other before pickup and see how each other has been rated by other users and drivers, you do know what you are getting into through a system that's up to the minute and generally far more rigorous than the city's paper regulations on "official taxis."

A feature on the rise of, and regulatory backlash against, these e-hailing ride services will appear in a forthcoming issue of Reason (subscribe now!)

Previous Reason blogging on Lyft.