Why You Can Use a Ride Sharing App in Some Cities But Not Others

Ever wonder why you can find plenty of ride sharing providers to pick you up in your hometown, but not if you travel to a different city? Here’s a look at some of the political factors behind that inconsistency, and how to make sure you’re not left stranded on your next trip if the service isn’t available.

License to Drive (for Hire)

In many cities, drivers for hire are required to have either a chauffeur’s license and/or livery plates. Costs and requirements associated with obtaining the licenses vary by location. In El Paso, Texas, for example, chauffeur license applicants must be have a certain degree of proficiency in English to communicate with passengers and correctly read and interpret traffic signs. They also need a history of no more than four moving violations or two at-fault accidents in a twelve-month period within the three years leading up to their application.

In cities like New York, the NYC Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC) regulates both driver-for-hire requirements and how many vehicles of each type (black car services, taxis, limousines and the like) can service various parts of the city.

Traditional Transit vs. Ride Sharing

While taxi companies must require driver’s to obtain chauffeur’s licenses and/or livery plates and cover costs like workers’ compensation, on-demand services hire drivers as independent contractors and don’t require them to have a chauffer’s licenses.

Still, lobbyists in California have said the services are operating illegally with respect to state rules of what constitutes a commercial vehicle. In Pennsylvania, transportation governing bodies have been battling over how to deal with the issue for years. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that Lyft finally agreed to purchase a short-term experiential license for $250,000 in order to comply with regulators. Lawmakers in the state proposed that Uber pay a fine of $50 million for not playing by the rules.

Many airports also require drivers for hire to have either a chauffer’s license and/or livery plates to pick up passengers from the airport, and charge drivers a fee for each passenger they pick up from the terminal. Uber and Lyft drivers may not have the same permits, so in some cases they may be able to sidestep those fees.

Where (and Where Not) to Ride

Money reports that at least 10 of the busiest airports in the country — including Atlanta, Philadelphia, Detroit and Boston — have banned ride sharing in airport terminals. Austin, Texas and Panama City Beach, Florida have banned the services throughout the entire city. In other towns, the laws have softened. For example, travelers to Seattle, Minneapolis and New Orleans can legally access the services for pick-up at the airport; the Miami-Dade airport now allows Lyft (though not Uber) to serve passengers.

The Huffington Post reports that flagging down a ride with an app may not be the best option for travelers, even in countries where it isn’t banned. In parts of Brazil, cab drivers have become violent toward passengers who even so much as look like they’re hitting up an Uber. In France and Germany, only higher-end (and pricier) services like UberX are allowed to operate.

How to Plan for a Ban

If you’re planning a trip and don’t want to stick to traditional transportation, you’ve got options. First, check the latest service locations before you go. Uber and Lyft both allow you to search all the cities currently serviced by drivers on their websites. Consider carpooling, as well. If you’re traveling to Chicago or New York, on-demand carpooling services like Via match you with fellow travelers headed for your destination. Bandwagon offers a similar service in New York for sharing taxis.

Ultimately, there is some lesser-known tech that gives you the best of both worlds. On-demand services like Arro — available in Boston, Chicago and New York — allow riders to request service with an app, but hire only commercially licensed drivers. Yellow Cab offers its own version of a ride sharing app in some cities now, too.

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