Regulation

California Tried To Fine a Company $10,000 for Ordering Blind People Ubers and Lyfts Without a Permit

GoGo Grandparent gives people without smartphones a way to use rideshare services. Regulators think that's a problem.

|

California regulators are trying to crack down on a company that orders Ubers for the blind and elderly.

In February, the Consumer Protection and Enforcement Division (CPED) of the California Public Utilities Commission—the state body that regulates transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft—issued a citation to GoGo Grandparent for operating a for-hire transportation service without permission.

Regulators demanded that the company pay a $10,000 fine and obtain the necessary permit to run a transportation network company, which would involve getting $1 million liability insurance for its vehicles and handing over lists of its drivers to the state.

But GoGo doesn't own any vehicles, and it doesn't contract directly with any drivers.

Instead, for the past four years, the company has been providing a toll-free hotline that customers without a smartphone can call to order an Uber or Lyft ride to their home or another prearranged location. Using customer-provided information, GoGo's software automatically orders a ride, then charges a 27-cent-per-mile fee for its services.

GoGo's service is aimed at elderly and disabled people who either don't have or can't use smartphones. Its novelty and perceived public benefit—improving mobility for seniors—has earned the company coverage from such outlets as The New York Times and TechCrunch.

State regulators have taken a more negative view.

California law defines a for-hire ride service—referred to as "charter-party carriers"—as any "person engaged in the transportation of persons by motor vehicle for compensation." CPED argues that this applies to GoGo. In regulatory filings, it has used the Merriam-Wester definition of "engaged" as "involved in [the] activity."

The division officially cited GoGo in February. In March, the company filed an appeal, arguing that the regulations it was being asked to comply with were inapplicable to its business model.

"GoGo allows a flip phone to act as a substitute for a smartphone for the rider summoning a ride through a [transportation network company] such as Uber or Lyft," says the appeal, which notes that the company neither employs or contracts with drivers. "For the [Public Utilities Commission] to regulate them would be equivalent to regulating a smartphone or the Google Alexa Device or a computer code."

In an August opinion, an administrative law judge agreed with GoGo, noting that the CPED had used a more narrow definition of transportation service in the past—and that if regulators' expansive definition of what it meant to be "engaged" in transporting people were accepted, those same regulators might themselves be labeled a for-hire transportation service.

CPED regulators "are 'engaged' in the transportation of persons by motor vehicle by virtue of this enforcement action and they are compensated for their activity," the judge noted. "This absurd result of relying on its dictionary definition demonstrates the ambiguity of the term 'engaged.'"

The full utility commission still needs to vote to ratify this decision, and the vote keeps getting delayed. The five-member commission was initially supposed to vote to dismiss the citation issued against GoGo in October, but that was moved back to November, and now early December.

A spokesperson for the California Public Utilities Commission told the San Francisco Chronicle that a few delays are pro forma. Not so, says Tom MacBride, GoGo's attorney, who told the paper that multiple delays usually happen only for major commission business, not a minor citation like the one issued against his client. He speculates that CPED staff could be holding up proceedings.

Regardless of what's behind these delays, it's ridiculous that GoGo is in this position in the first place. The company is performing a useful and innovative service by helping seniors to make use of technology that might otherwise have left them behind. For their trouble, they've been beset by dictionary-quoting regulators who are stretching state law to penalize the company.

NEXT: Did Elizabeth Warren Forget She's a Senator?

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. The five-member commission was initially supposed to vote to dismiss the citation issued against GoGo in October, but that was moved back to November, and now early December.

    Someone call them a cab to their fucking job.

  2. Makes one proud to be a Californian.

    1. Where at least you know you’re not free?

    2. Why would anyone be proud to be a commifornian?

      1. Why I’m Proud To Be “One Of Those Californians”

        You don’t appreciate home until you leave it, and I’m proud to be “one of those Californians.” We like sunshine, avocados, and taking things for granted. We drive like maniacs, say “hella,” and consider anything below 55 degrees to be the next Ice Age. And I wouldn’t change it, because it’s who we are.

        1. I can appreciate the thought that “it’s my home, come what may”. The solution in that case is to fix the problems, not abandon the area.

          1. Yeah… But my dad made the smart move and took us out of that hellhole when I was in high school. As much as I’ve missed those 70+ degree winter days… Fuck that place. Unless a plague wipes out all the major population centers, and it gets repopulated by people from the south, midwest, and Texas… I ain’t ever moving back there.

  3. All must be punished!!! FINES, JAILS, AND MORE FINES!!! The more punishment, the more mercy, and the more justice!!!

    Do you crazy libertarians understand NOTHING?!?!?

  4. “For the [Public Utilities Commission] to regulate them would be equivalent to regulating a smartphone or the Google Alexa Device or a computer code.”

    Give them time.

    1. A better analogy is a hotel concierge desk. They routinely call airport shuttles, taxis and even arrange limo service for guests of their hotel.

      Under the ‘creative’ interpretation of the law here, those hotels would need to maintain a minimum of $1,000,000 in insurance on every taxi, limo and shuttle bus in operation in the region the hotel is in (despite the hotel having no ownership or control of those vehicles), keep track of personal information on drivers that don’t work for them, and do it all right now, not in the months or years it would actually take.

      And that assumes all the taxi, shuttle and limo companies comply with the hotel’s requests, when they are not only under no obligation to do so, but might get into legal trouble themselves for the data breach necessary to comply!

  5. For a second, I thought Uber was hiring blind *drivers.*

    1. SHUT UP, for the love of Government Almighty! Please do NOT be suggesting NEW mandates to be imposed by Government Almighty!

      Enough already!!! Do NOT give them new ideas!!! Government Almighty is, indeed, the blind leading the blind, already! No need for more!

      1. “Government Almighty is, indeed, the blind leading the blind, already!”

        Disagree. Government is the blind leading people who actually have a good bead on things; certainly in this case.

  6. “an administrative law judge…

    “The full utility commission still needs to vote to ratify this decision”

    I can see why the regulations of the administrative state would refer to these hearing officers as judges, but for opponents of the regulatory state, these officials don’t look like what we’re accustomed to think of as judges.

    A real judge makes a decision binding on the parties, subject (generally speaking) to an appeal to a higher court – i. e., higher judges can overrule lower ones.

    But this official makes recommendations, not rulings, which are reviewed by an administrative body, not a higher court.

    Should the opponents of the administrative state employ that state’s question-begging terminology?

    1. There you go with dictionary definitions. Whose side are you on?

    2. IIUC they have to use those terms and cannot file with a court until they have exhausted the administrative methods available for resolving issues.

      IMHO the PUC is trying to decide if they can get away with an interim decision, thereby avoiding a final decision that would allow the case to go to court.

  7. Regulators demanded … getting $1 million liability insurance for its vehicles and handing over lists of its drivers to the state. But GoGo doesn’t own any vehicles, and it doesn’t contract directly with any drivers.

    Well, then that should be a piece of cake easy.

    More seriously: Consumer Cellular has announced a similar service. One supposes it will not be available in California.

  8. California law defines a for-hire ride service—referred to as “charter-party carriers”—as any “person engaged in the transportation of persons by motor vehicle for compensation.” CPED argues that this applies to GoGo. In regulatory filings, it has used the Merriam-We[b]ster definition of “engaged” as “involved in [the] activity.”

    Probably just floating a trial balloon with this little company. If it floats, Ford, Exxon, Apple and Verizon are next on the list.

    1. And don’t forget about concierge services at hotels. Or the admin for your office building.

      1. Or the bartender who calls you a cab when you’re too drunk to drive.

  9. ” to regulate them would be equivalent to regulating a smartphone or the Google Alexa Device or a computer code.”

    STOP!! Don’t give them ideas! This is California after all.

  10. Hopefully, GG can now appeal to a real judge, who will then set a precedent that none of these idiot ALJs can change.

    1. IMHO that is what is taking so long; the PUC is trying to find an “interim” decision thereby avoiding a “final” decision that would allow GG to take it to a real court.

  11. The company is performing a useful and innovative service by helping seniors to make use of technology that might otherwise have left them behind.

    There they are! Go get them! Kick their asses – no mercy!

  12. They charge by the mile. How are they not a transportation service?

    1. Who cares? Let the market creates ways to help people rather than government creating ways to hurt people.

      1. Sure, but that’s a different question. Reason is claiming this is a “phone service” or somesuch.

    2. Charging a commission on the sale of a house doesn’t mean one is in the construction business.

    3. They charge by the mile. How are they not a transportation service??

      Their service is putting driver and passenger together. They are not doing the transporting.

    4. Because they don’t transport anyone or anything.

  13. Look, we can’t have just any company trying to help people, especially needy people. THAT is the special mission of progressive government. And they don’t want anyone fucking with their monopoly.

  14. I recently traveled out west and I swear every Uber/Lyft smelled like grape, cherry, or some other artificial fruit smell. It was either an air freshener of some sort or I had a stroke.
    At least blind people would know they were in an Uber by smell alone.

  15. Now imagine what CA lawmakers would be saying if Uber were to sue this company for violating a ToS or something

  16. All these woke leftists (and I presume they’re left-wing Democrats because of the bullying) who care sooooo much for people. It’s so incredible I feel it all the way up here. /wipes tear.

    Look at the people who rail on against Chick-fil-A because of the Salvation Army.

    Old people and the homeless are necessary collateral damage because the left’s compulsion for compassion is so great one can’t even understand it on a basic level.

    Literally? Horrible people these protestors and regulators.

    Isn’t California, as an aside, the place where they outlaws plastic straws and freelance writers?

  17. The coercive force of government is a very dangerous thing. Treat it accordingly.

  18. Nobody said it yet?
    Tell those regulators to get off my lawn!

  19. CA hates the gig economy. Uber and Lyft is part of that. So naturally they would think that blind people should not support that economy and the people who refer blind people to the gig economy are traitors.

  20. There they are! Go get them! Kick their asses – no mercy!

    this my page situs judi slot

  21. I am making 10,000 Dollar at home own laptop .Just do work online 4 to 6 hour proparly . so i make my family happy and u can do ………  ……..  Read More

Please to post comments