After stand-off, Minneapolis set to legalize Lyft

A City Council proposal would legalize controversial ridesharing services.

by Tyler Gieseke

Minneapolis will likely allow ridesharing companies like Lyft and Uberto to operate in the city after weeks of contention over whether company drivers should have to purchase taxi licenses.

Lyft, a citizen chauffeur service that connects drivers and riders through a mobile app, launched in Minneapolis last month.  The service evaded city sanctions by offering free rides to customers and accepting donations in place of fares. Now, a proposed ordinance would legalize ridesharing under city code.

Ward 3 City Councilman Jacob Frey, who represents neighborhoods around the University of Minnesota, introduced the change earlier this month. The proposal sparked discussions on how to best allow the services and still protect residents’ safety.

The city is concerned that the companies have the proper insurance to protect riders, because they currently aren’t subject to the same regulations as taxi companies, business licenses manager Grant Wilson said at a committee meeting last week.

“We feel that now is the time to get it addressed so we can have some kind of orderly process in place,” he said.

Because Lyft drivers use private vehicles for commercial purposes, Frey said it’s important the company follows proper codes. Ridesharing companies similar to Lyft already provide an insurance option for drivers, he said, but there are lingering questions about when policies apply.

Frey, who supports ridesharing services, proposed adding “transportation network companies” to the list of operable transportation services in Minneapolis and guidelines that the companies would have to follow — a request that’s pending full City Council approval.

Frey said he thinks most of the other members are on board. Ward 7 City Councilwoman Lisa Goodman said at the meeting that the change could be finalized in the coming month.

Besides updating the city code in terms of insurance, Minneapolis officials also want to be sure ridesharing companies serve all parts of Minneapolis, like taxi companies do, Frey said.

The city wants to encourage residents to move away from using private vehicles, Frey said, and the city could get closer to that goal by legalizing ridesharing.

Ridesharing would be a good addition to the “cornucopia” of transportation options in Minneapolis, Frey said, and would help students who might otherwise have trouble finding rides.

Chemical engineering senior Christian Jolicoeur agreed and said ridesharing services are more efficient than taxis.

“Lyft’s a good thing,” he said. “I’m glad that Minneapolis is looking at ways to keep it around.”

Jolicoeur said it’s annoying when taxis arrive late, but Lyft’s GPS capability allows customers to track drivers, preventing the problem.

Kinesiology freshman Audrey Swantz said she felt safer with a “friendly” Lyft driver — a retired man who said he was looking to meet people around the city with the job — than riding in a taxi. She doesn’t see any problems with letting the company operate in the city.

She said she also liked how the ridesharing app makes it easy to pay with an account instead of worrying about cash.

At the committee meeting, Goodman urged city staff to consider the proposal and asked for an update soon.

“This is a really big opportunity for our city to do this right,” she said.