Ride-hail­ing ser­vices:

Re­form­ing Cal­i­for­nia PUC would let other de­part­ments take over

San Francisco Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - By Carolyn Said

The state is con­sid­er­ing hav­ing a dif­fer­ent agency over­see firms such as Uber and Lyft.

Al­most two years ago, the Cal­i­for­nia Pub­lic Util­i­ties Com­mis­sion broke new ground when it es­tab­lished rules for up­start ride­hail­ing ser­vices Uber and Lyft. When the two San Fran­cisco companies have bat­tled with reg­u­la­tors na­tion­wide, they’ve of­ten pointed to the Cal­i­for­nia rules as a model, and many other ju­ris­dic­tions have fol­lowed sim­i­lar frame­works. Both companies have flour­ished in Cal­i­for­nia and else­where un­der rules more lib­eral than those for taxi­cabs, al­low­ing them to set their own rates, for in­stance.

Now the state is con­sid­er­ing hav­ing the Cal­i­for­nia State Trans­porta­tion Agency take over im­ple­men­ta­tion and en­force­ment of those rules, as well as craft­ing new ones. A draft pro­posal to re­form the PUC un­veiled Mon­day calls for the Depart­ment of Mo­tor Vehicles to over­see li­cens­ing, reg­is­tra­tion and ev­i­dence of in­surance for ride-hailed driv­ers, while the Cal­i­for­nia High­way Pa­trol would han­dle en­force­ment and “se­lect in­ves­ti­ga­tions.” Both or­ga­ni­za­tions are part of the state’s trans­porta­tion agency.

One as­pect of the re­form seems un­clear: The gover­nor’s of­fice said the PUC would still write rules for Uber and Lyft, but law­mak­ers in­volved in over­haul­ing the agency said it would not.

“Rule-mak­ing would re­main at CPUC,” said Evan Westrup, a spokesman for Gov. Jerry Brown, in an email.

How­ever, As­sem­bly­man Mike Gatto, D-Los An­ge­les, who is tak­ing a lead on the ride­hail­ing re­vi­sions, said the DMV and High­way Pa­trol would be empowered to draw up new

reg­u­la­tions for Uber and Lyft — and that it’s not a stretch for them.

“The DMV ab­so­lutely pro­mul­gates reg­u­la­tions,” he said, point­ing to its rule-mak­ing on var­i­ous driv­ing is­sues. “Ev­ery state agency within the ex­ec­u­tive branch does.”

Hav­ing the CHP in­volved is a plus, he said. “For any­one who says we need stricter back­ground checks (for Uber and Lyft driv­ers), we’d be giv­ing (that de­ci­sion) to a law en­force­ment agency to han­dle,” Gatto said.

Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Ma­teo, had a sim­i­lar take. “I think all of the reg­u­la­tory as­pects can go and should go to the other agen­cies,” he said. “They can do a bet­ter job of it, be­cause they’re fo­cused on trans­porta­tion.”

Ex­ist­ing reg­u­la­tions would re­main in place, a cru­cial point for companies that need to know the rules of the road. Uber and Lyft have made clear that they pre­fer statewide rules to the patch­work of lo­cal reg­u­la­tions that gov­ern taxi­cabs. Any changes are prob­a­bly more than a year away.

Ex­perts said that pro­posed di­vi­sion makes sense. “The move takes ad­van­tage of each agency’s ex­ist­ing in­fras­truc­ture and goals,” said Su­san Sha­heen, co-direc­tor of the Trans­porta­tion Sus­tain­abil­ity Re­search Cen­ter at UC Berke­ley, while not­ing that it’s too soon to know the full im­pli­ca­tions of the pro­posed changes.

PUC Pres­i­dent Michael Picker, who in March told law­mak­ers the agency is over­bur­dened and he finds him­self “un­der­wa­ter on a daily ba­sis,” said that over­see­ing ride ser­vices is bur­den­some and sug­gested the DMV and CHP as al­ter­na­tives.

Uber and Lyft each is­sued non­com­mit­tal state­ments say­ing they look for­ward to learn­ing more about the pro­posed re­forms. Both companies have shown in­creas­ing fi­nesse in nav­i­gat­ing the halls of the Capi­tol in Sacra­mento and fine­tun­ing leg­is­la­tion that af­fects their busi­nesses.

Last year, the DMV made head­lines with a short-lived find­ing that Uber and Lyft driv­ers should ob­tain com­mer­cial li­cense plates. That ig­nited a firestorm of con­tro­versy, with Repub­li­can law­mak­ers say­ing they’d en­acted leg­is­la­tion to negate the “non­sen­si­cal” in­ter­pre­ta­tion of a 1935 state law. The DMV then back­tracked and said it would sub­ject the mat­ter to fur­ther analysis.

“The DMV has cer­tainly made some bad de­ci­sions I haven’t ap­proved of,” Gatto said. “But when­ever you have a change, you’re hope­ful it will work.”

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