Regulators punt decision on allowing ride-booking service Lyft to operate in New Mexico

Markets Associated Press

After a heated meeting and charges of holding an illegal hearing, New Mexico regulators tabled a decision Wednesday to allow ride-booking service Lyft to operate in the state while lawmakers debate the future of such companies.

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The Public Regulation Commission voted not to issue a ruling on San Francisco-based Lyft's request to function in the New Mexico — at least until new legislation is passed — amid confusion over current state laws.

Last year, the commission ordered Lyft to cease operations in Albuquerque, where the company had launched its service. But a district judge in Santa Fe refused to enforce the commission's cease-and-desist order, allowing the company to operate in the state capital.

Lyft and Uber use smartphone programs to connect people seeking rides with people who have cars.

PRC staff attorney Michael C. Smith blasted Commission Chairwoman Karen Montoya for even considering the temporary order and said putting it on the agenda for discussion violated state law.

"I believe this is an illegal act," Smith said. "This is a dangerous act to follow."

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However, Nann Winter, an attorney for Lyft, said her client can't even fill out an application to operate in New Mexico because state transportation laws are so outdated and the company doesn't consider itself a taxi service.

"We don't fit into your regulations," Winter said. "We continue to operate with zero oversight."

Winter said Lyft, for the sake of good business practices, wants to be regulated. She said Lyft had already been before the PRC three other times and nothing had been resolved.

But commissioner Lynda Lovejoy said Lyft's latest move was a "publicity stunt."

Rep. Monica Youngblood, R-Albuquerque, and Sen. Phil Griego, D-San Jose, have sponsored a bill that would allow ride-booking services to operate in New Mexico. The House Transportation and Public Works Committee is expected to discuss the proposal Thursday.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed a measure earlier this month to allow the companies to operate in that state. Until the state passed the bill, Virginia had allowed the companies to operate under a temporary agreement since this summer.

The temporary agreement followed letters from state officials in June 2014 telling the companies to cease operations in Virginia because they didn't have the proper licenses.

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