Lyft argues it's not a taxi service in appeal of citation

Published April 21, 2015

TAMPA — Ride-sharing company Lyft argued Monday that it's not a taxi service and accused Hillsborough County of violating the law when it penalized the mobile app maker for operating here.

The latest salvo in the ongoing battle between the county and so-called transportation networking services came during Lyft's appeal hearing for a citation it received in December. The ticket was issued after a Public Transportation Commission sting operation caught a driver picking up passengers using the company's mobile application.

During the hearing, which grew contentious at times, Lyft lawyer Steve Anderson said the PTC can't issue citations because it doesn't have the authority to regulate ride-sharing companies. Justin Lyn, team lead on the trust and safety team for Lyft, said Lyft is a software company facilitating a transaction, like eBay, not a transportation company.

"Lyft doesn't own any vehicles at all," Lyn said. "Lyft doesn't employ anybody for the purposes of driving."

But the county argued that Lyft is clearly operating as a for-hire transportation service, which falls under its purview. Passengers flag drivers using a mobile app, which also acts as a meter tracking distance driven by the pickup vehicle, and Lyft takes a 20 percent cut from the cost of trip.

"In order for Lyft to make money someone has to be transported from point A to point B," said Rob Brazel, chief assistant county attorney.

Hearing officer Susan More previously ruled in September that drivers for Lyft's competitor Uber were, essentially, cabs and upheld certain citations against the company. Her line of questioning Monday indicated she remains skeptical of the ride-sharing argument.

"Why would you carry liability insurance for automobiles if you're not in the business of providing transportation?" she asked Lyn, who said it was for safety.

Lyft and the county agreed that a decision in the case will apply to 38 other tickets issued last year. PTC investigators have penalized Lyft and Uber, as well as drivers using the companies' apps, dozens of times in the past year.

The appeal hearing comes as the county is exploring new rules that would regulate ride-sharing companies. Anderson tried to argue that the fact the county was pushing for new rules demonstrated that existing policies did not give the PTC authority to regulate ride-sharing.

More ruled the argument was not relevant to an appeal hearing about a single citation.

A decision in the case is expected within two weeks.