A sin­gle per­mit for ride share driv­ers?

Uber, Lyft back a bill al­low­ing driv­ers to get a state li­cense in­stead of mul­ti­ple city ones.

Los Angeles Times - - BUSINESS - By Liam Dillon

SACRA­MENTO — Ev­ery week, Yolanda Bowie’s part­time job as a driver for Lyft and Uber takes her from her Sacra­mento home and across the con­stel­la­tion of cities that make up the greater Bay Area.

Bowie was sur­prised when Lyft told her re­cently that she might have to pay for busi­ness li­censes to drive in each one of them. If that hap­pened, Bowie said, she would stop work­ing for the com­pa­nies.

“I drive to pay for my Har­ley,” said Bowie, 50, “not ex­tra fees for busi­ness li­censes.”

Lyft and Uber are try­ing to pre­vent Bowie and their thou­sands of other driv­ers across Cal­i­for­nia from need­ing mul­ti­ple li­censes. A bill in the Cal­i­for­nia Leg­is­la­ture backed by the two com­pa­nies would al­low ride-hail­ing ser­vice driv­ers to get a sin­gle li­cense to work statewide rather than hav­ing to pur­chase one in ev­ery city they pick up, drop off or drive through.

For now, few cities are en­forc­ing their cur­rent busi­ness li­cense rules with Uber and Lyft driv­ers. But the state leg­is­la­tion would pre­empt their abil­ity to do so, pain­ing lo­cal gov­ern­ments that are op­posed to the leg­is­la­tion. San Fran­cisco, which al­ready has a ro­bust li­cens­ing ef­fort, is par­tic­u­larly ag­grieved.

The city has sent no­tices to nearly 60,000 peo­ple it be­lieves have driven for Uber and Lyft there, and more than 19,000 have paid the an­nual fee — typ­i­cally $91 — for a li­cense. The pro­gram al­lows the city to track ride­hail­ing on San Fran­cisco streets, pro­vid­ing the data for a re­cent re­port from the city’s trans­porta­tion agency show­ing that thou­sands of driv­ers work in San Fran­cisco ev­ery day.

The new state leg­is­la­tion would do away with that, said Sil­via So­lis Shaw, the city’s lob­by­ist, at an As­sem­bly com­mit­tee hear­ing on the bill last month.

“We are over­whelmed with these ve­hi­cles,” So­lis Shaw said. “To deal with the im­pacts on our city, that is

why we have this busi­ness li­cense in place.”

The ques­tion of whether Uber and Lyft driv­ers need busi­ness li­censes at all is a con­se­quence of their sta­tus un­der the law. For years, reg­u­la­tory and court­room bat­tles have cen­tered on whether driv­ers are em­ploy­ees or in­de­pen­dent con­trac­tors, a dis­tinc­tion that has sub­stan­tial im­pli­ca­tions for driv­ers’ pay, ben­e­fits and work rules and for the com­pa­nies’ bot­tom lines.

Gen­er­ally, these de­ci­sions have de­fined driv­ers as in­de­pen­dent con­trac­tors, giv­ing them the same clas­si­fi­ca­tion as free­lance writ­ers, pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tors and those who run er­rands for pay. Work­ers fall­ing un­der this sta­tus of­ten have to get li­censes in ev­ery city where they do busi­ness.

Those rules don’t make sense for ride-hail­ing driv­ers who could tra­verse dozens of cities with their pas­sen­gers, said state Sen. Steven Brad­ford (D-Gar­dena), the bill’s au­thor.

“To con­tinue with the same busi­ness model that we used 20 or 30 years ago does not ap­ply to­day,” Brad­ford said in last month’s com­mit­tee hear­ing.

Brad­ford’s bill would re­quire driv­ers to get just one busi­ness li­cense, is­sued in the city where they live. It also would re­strict some pub­lic ac­cess to driv­ers’ ad­dresses. Cur­rently, cities of­ten make such in­for­ma­tion about in­de­pen­dent con­trac­tors — who might list busi­ness ad­dresses or post of­fice boxes on their li­cense forms — avail­able in on­line data­bases.

The pri­vacy pro­vi­sions are the pri­mary rea­son Bowie sup­ports the bill. She spoke on its be­half at last month’s com­mit­tee hear­ing af­ter Lyft no­ti­fied her and other driv­ers of the bill’s ex­is­tence through its app.

“I’m a sin­gle woman, I own a home,” said Bowie, whose full-time job is with the state De­part­ment of Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion. “And I don’t want my home ad­dress pub­lished.”

More broadly, op­po­nents of the leg­is­la­tion don’t be­lieve law­mak­ers should be giv­ing Uber and Lyft spe­cial rules that no other in­de­pen­dent con­trac­tors re­ceive, espe­cially in ways detri­men­tal to cities with the most driv­ers.

Ac­cord­ing to San Fran­cisco’s data, more than 70% of Uber and Lyft driv­ers op­er­at­ing in the city don’t live there. Brad­ford’s bill would mean the city couldn’t col­lect money from them. Based on the num­ber of ex­ist­ing li­censes, the city makes about $1.7 mil­lion a year from driver busi­ness li­cense fees and would lose all but about $500,000 of that amount.

“San Fran­cisco is go­ing to lose the abil­ity to li­cense sig­nif­i­cant ac­tiv­ity in their own com­mu­nity,” said Dan Car­rigg, leg­isla­tive di­rec­tor for the League of Cal­i­for­nia Cities, at last month’s hear­ing.

The city of Los An­ge­les does not is­sue busi­ness li­censes, and in­stead re­quires com­pa­nies and in­de­pen­dent con­trac­tors to pay a tax. Lyft and Uber driv­ers, in­clud­ing those who pass through the city with­out stop­ping, are re­quired to pay the min­i­mum $55 a year, said Sel­wyn Hollins, an as­sis­tant di­rec­tor for the city of Los An­ge­les Of­fice of Fi­nance.

But, he said, “the ma­jor­ity don’t.”

As it stands, Hollins said, Los An­ge­les could charge its tax even if Brad­ford’s bill passes. Cur­rently, he said, the tax is paid on an honor sys­tem and the city, he said, has held talks with Uber about how to im­prove its sys­tem, in­clud­ing the com­pany po­ten­tially no­ti­fy­ing driv­ers of their obli­ga­tion to pay.

The leg­is­la­tion, Se­nate Bill 182, is pend­ing in the As­sem­bly and needs full votes by both houses to pass by the end of the leg­isla­tive year in mid-Septem­ber.

Ir­fan Khan Los An­ge­les Times

A DRIVER for both Lyft and Uber leaves LAX. Los An­ge­les does not re­quire such driv­ers to pur­chase lo­cal busi­ness li­censes, but many other cities in Cal­i­for­nia do.

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