Salt Lake City opens door for rideshare services to operate legally, but Uber, Lyft push back

The Salt Lake City Council has passed a set of guidelines that pave the way for ridesharing services such as Uber and Lyft to operate in the city legally — but the companies say the rules are burdensome and redundant and that they want Utah's largest city to go back to the drawing board.

The council's adoption of regulations Tuesday night to govern smartphone-based ridesharing services shows the city is willing to try and work with the companies. Previously, drivers for the companies have been hit with $6,500 in fines by the city.

The guidelines include:

— Cars used by the companies must be covered by automotive liability insurance.

— Drivers must get background checks done by the FBI and Homeland Security

— Cars used by the companies must get inspections and emissions tests.

The council eliminated a $30 minimum fare for limousines and a rule requiring drivers to arrange rides at least 30 minutes in advance in a nod to change that Uber and Lyft had supported.

The rules create mechanisms to ensure public safety and provide consistency with similar regulations that govern traditional taxi companies, said Charlie Luke, chairman of the council. He said he was disappointed, but not surprised to hear Uber and Lyft won't follow the guidelines.

"We have now created a legal pathway for these companies to operate," Luke said Wednesday. "If they choose to continue operating illegally, the city will ticket them."

Representatives with Uber and Lyft said they are already doing what the city asks of them, including comprehensive background checks.

"We are not opposed to regulations, we just want to make sure those regulations don't make it impossible for part-timers to participate," said Chelsea Wilson, spokeswoman for Lyft. "We're concerned about redundant processes and red tape."

Uber spokesman Michael Amodeo said Salt Lake City should adopt regulations adopted by Washington, D.C., and other cities that don't require additional background checks and inspections, only verification that companies have done them.

"If the council's intention was to welcome ridesharing into Salt Lake City, these regulations clearly miss the mark," Amodeo said in a statement. "The council is attempting to fit a square peg in a round hole with outdated regulations that fail to recognize the unique nature of ridesharing."

Opponents say rideshare companies should be regulated just like taxi companies. Rideshare companies put riders and drivers at risk and are undermining the ability of hard-working cab drivers to make a living, said Rocky Anderson, former Salt Lake City mayor and an attorney representing Yellow Cab. He criticized the council for easing regulations to try to appease Uber and Lyft.

"It's a very unfair, unequal playing field," Anderson said.

Wilson says Lyft is hopeful Salt Lake city council will continue to work with the company to come up with suitable regulations.

Luke acknowledged the guidelines are a work in progress. The council's doors are open because the city sees value in creating a legal way for the companies to operate in Utah, he said.

But Luke said, "We're not willing to weaken or decrease the amount of safety measures and the consistency the city has to have."