Tensions between ride-share drivers and taxicab operators boiled over Tuesday after the Urban County Council delayed action on whether to make companies such as Lyft and Uber follow the same regulations as the city's taxi operators.
More than a dozen Lyft drivers, dressed in purple T-shirts, and a dozen cab operators, many of whom wore yellow T-shirts, the iconic color of cabs, attended Tuesday's Public Safety Committee meeting.
After the council decided it needed to wait until after October — when the state releases new statewide regulations regarding ride-sharing — taxi drivers questioned whether the city was going to start citing Lyft and Uber drivers for operating illegally.
Greg Kujawski, a lawyer representing Bluegrass Cab and a former cab driver, said the city's law department has already determined that ride-sharing companies fall under the city's taxicab ordinance.
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"Why aren't they being cited?" Kujawski questioned. "These laws have to be applied equally to everyone or they don't apply to anyone. I'm sure that's not what council has in mind. We are requesting that enforcement not start a year from now, six months from now, but start immediately."
Some of the Lyft drivers replied that taxicab operators have smeared their reputations with half-truths and lies. The cab operators were jealous because many people preferred ride-sharing services to traditional cabs because they were cleaner and more efficient, the Lyft drivers said.
But city officials said they have decided to let Lyft and Uber continue to operate until changes in the ordinance are in place.
Ride-share companies have sparked debate across the country as taxi companies and lawmakers grapple with how to compete with and regulate the innovative platforms.
Last month, the state announced it was going to implement emergency regulations that would require that ride-sharing companies operate the same as taxicab companies.
According to information from the state, ride-sharing services are operating in Lexington, Louisville and Cincinnati.
The Louisville city government is also waiting to see the state's regulations before changing its taxicab ordinances.
The companies offer a smartphone application to match paying customers who need a ride with someone willing to provide one. Lyft has been operating in Lexington since April, and Uber started operations soon after Lyft.
Taxicab operators told the city that Lyft drivers do not have to have vehicle safety checks, pass criminal background checks or pay city licensing fees. That means their overhead is less.
Lyft and Uber representatives told the council that the companies have insurance to cover drivers and riders, and they said that their drivers go through extensive background checks.
James Ondrey, Uber's general manager for the Kentucky and Ohio region, said the company also carries an additional $1 million in insurance for uninsured drivers that might hit an Uber driver and passenger — insurance coverage that most cab companies don't have.
Ondrey also argued that Uber and Lyft have not squeezed out traditional taxicab operators in other cities where the ride-sharing service operates.
Don Daugherty, general manager of Bluegrass Cab, told the council that Lyft drivers are cutting in on Lexington cab drivers' business. He said they have been spotted at a cab stand on Short Street and line up downtown on Friday and Saturday nights.
"Yet, they claim they are not a taxicab company," Daugherty said.
Those rides aren't covered by Lyft and Uber's insurance policy. Only those rides that are booked via its mobile application are covered by the company's insurance, he said.
Jonathan Miller, a representative of Lyft, told the council that Lyft drivers that solicit riders outside the mobile app are let go.
Glenda George of the city's law department told the council that the city believes that the ride-sharing services should be regulated. But the current ordinances will need to be changed to include ride-sharing.
"We need to make some amendments or modifications to our ordinance," George said. "We have been working with several state agencies on this issue."
Once the state finally issues its emergency regulations and the city has a chance to review them, the law department will be back with possible revisions to the city's ordinances to include ride-sharing companies, she said.