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Car sharing trouble coming to Minneapolis?

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: August 5, 2013 - 6:36 PM

Updated at 6:36 p.m.

MPLS readers may have noticed ads on Facebook and other social media for Lyft, a California-based smartphone app that facilitates car sharing between willing drivers and their would-be passengers.

"Join the Lyft community and earn up to $20/hr while meeting great people around Minneapolis," reads a Facebook ad from the company soliciting drivers, beside a photo of a car bearing one of their signature pink mustaches. "Choose when you drive! With your help, we'll change the face of transportation."

The service, which has prompted regulatory fights and taxi protests in many other cities, could encounter similar obstacles in Minneapolis. The local taxicab association has remained quiet, but the city's head of business licensing said Lyft would likely have to get licensed.

Grant Wilson, head of business licensing, said in an e-mail last week that Lyft would likely "need Minneapolis taxicab licenses." He said they have not been contacted by the company, however, nor have they found them operating in the city.

Obtaining taxicab licenses for the drivers would run against Lyft's business model, which relies on easily signing up people with time to drive. Lyft's website says drivers must be 23 years old and pass through a phone screening, in-person meeting and background checks.

Council Member Gary Schiff, the City Council's authority on taxicab ordinances, said licensing taxis is important to ensure drivers are not wanted criminals, vehicles are inspected, and consumers can lodge complaints. He agrees Lyft drivers should be licensed.

“It’s a little dumbfounding to me that this startup company has this business model that leads them to get into fights with cities all across the country," Schiff said. "I don’t know what they’re thinking. It’s a very basic accepted piece of regulation for every city in the country to regulate driving services.”

It looks like St. Paul will have a similar dilemma. Pioneer Press reporter Fred Melo posted this photo of a Lyft vehicle around St. Paul last month.

Lyft representative did not return a message seeking comment Monday morning. The company's app (right) says the service is still "not available in this area yet."

Lyft, which is now live in six U.S. cities, said they have not determined a final launch date for Minneapolis. “As we always do, will review all city and state regulations prior to launch,” Lyft spokeswoman Erin Simpson said in a statement. She noted that California regulators have recently proposed rules to accommodate services like Lyft, as long as they adhere to certain safety and liability requirements.

Lyft isn't the only smartphone car sharing app expanding into the Twin Cities. Another popular national service, Uber, began operations in Minneapolis last year. A key difference? Uber generally relies on limos and taxis that are already licensed.

Photo: Lyft's signature pink mustache on a vehicle (from Lyft Facebook page).

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