Fuzzy pink mustaches affixed to the front bumper of a car is the sign of one of Madison’s newest transportation options — and one of its latest controversies.

The mustache is the signature look of Lyft, a smartphone application that allows people to order rides from others willing to provide transportation in their personal vehicle, for a fee exchanged through the app and split between the driver and the company.

Lyft and a similar service, Uber, have operated in other cities but just recently launched in Madison. The companies’ presence in the area has raised the eyebrows of city officials and prompted pushback from Madison’s four licensed cab companies.

Dozens of people turned out for a public input session held Wednesday by the Madison Transit and Parking Commission, where drivers from Lyft and a state manager from Uber touted the safety of their services, saying they require background checks, provide drivers and customers with a photo of each other and carry out financial transactions without cash.

But questions about insurance liability and complaints from licensed cab companies about the potential for an unfair playing field were front and center.

“(These companies and their supporters) tell people that they’re not taxi companies and should not be bound by the same rules as the cab industry. As I understand in their business model, they contact drivers to pick up customers on demand and transport them throughout the city for a fee. My question is how is that not a taxi service?” said Jason Glomp, a member of Union Cab’s board.

Glomp and others argued that the services should be subject to the same licensing standards and insurance practices as Madison’s existing cab companies to promote safety for drivers and passengers and to ensure fairness.

It became clear Wednesday that as Lyft and Uber currently exist, the city agrees with Glomp. At the meeting, the City Attorney’s Office said it believes the two companies are currently operating in violation of the city’s taxi ordinance, and Madison police Capt. Carl Gloede said drivers for those services should cease operation immediately or face fines.

But there is demand for the convenience offered by Lyft and Uber. James Lloyd, director of the nonprofit group 100 State, said he regularly uses taxis and felt there is a “massive gap” in services between Madison and other cities. Lloyd said he believes a lack of competition has created a lower-quality experience for users.

Phil Anderson, general manager of Green Cab, said the extreme cold this winter has made wait times longer. But he said that over the course of the year, particularly the slower summer months, he felt Madison’s four cab companies, collectively, were probably the appropriate size for the city.

Commissioners expressed other concerns about potential discrimination of riders with disabilities or who can’t afford smartphones or don’t have credit cards.

Ald. Scott Resnick, 8th District, said he is working on legislation that would allow the companies to coexist with traditional taxi services through regulation.

Jeff Glaze covers county and suburban government for the Wisconsin State Journal. He joined the newspaper in 2011 after earning degrees in journalism and political science from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.

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(9) comments

HockeyTeam

Uber did announce today they would be expanding insurance coverage and begin doing background checks.

Cozeman

These cabbies are rude, dirty scoundrels. Ride share erupted and are thriving because citizens HATE taxi cab drivers and those dirty rotten cabs you all drive. A ride share program like Lyft is nothing different than on-line-hitch hiking for a ride. using an app instead of your thumb. Craig's list has ride share. Do they want people who post on Craig's List for a ride and link up to have cab-taxi licenses too? What a crock! Cab drivers are low-life, pond scum. Ride share drivers I've met like Lyft drivers are mostly from professional walks of life. Teachers, sales reps and managers. They are fun and have lots of personality They are clean, intelligent, friendly people. They arrive in five minutes instead of an hour and a half!!! Taxi cab drivers have scarcity mentalities! Most are rude, smelly people with out personality. That's why these Arabic drivers gravitate to mindless cab driving. Hurray for Lyft & Uber!!! Now we have a clean choice. Power to the People! Let the voters decide! This is a democracy!

MadisonAreaMan

But the other part of the piece that's disappointing is this sentence written by the reporter: "But there is demand for the convenience offered by Lyft and Uber."

The reporter posts this as if it were a fact. But then he doesn't even really offer accurate data to back it up. The only person he quotes is James Lloyd, director of the nonprofit group 100 State, who makes some comment about the low ratings of the cab companies on Google. There are lots of reasons for those ratings being low. But you know what? All 4 cab companies service thousands and thousands of people a year, many of whom get excellent service. Is that the best the reporter can do? Whatever happened to checking facts?

HockeyTeam

If there wasn't demand then there wouldn't be an Uber or Lyft.

MadisonAreaMan

It's weird that the reporter would refer to tonight's meeting as "City examining path to allow ride-sharing apps ... to operate legally" when the whole point of the meeting was to ENFORCE current regulations.

The reporter makes it seem like the City is pro Lyft, Uber. That's really not the case.

The City wants Lyft, Uber to follow the rules. You can CALL that "City examining path to allow ride-sharing apps," but that's not an accurate characterization.

Jeff Glaze
Jeff Glaze

MadisonAreaMan,

I respectfully disagree with your claim that I've led readers to believe the city is in support of Lyft and Uber.

It says blatantly in the story:
"It became clear Wednesday that as Lyft and Uber currently exist, the city agrees with Glomp. At the meeting, the City Attorney’s Office said it believes the two companies are currently operating in violation of the city’s taxi ordinance, and Madison police Capt. Carl Gloede said drivers for those services should cease operation in the city immediately or face fines."

The headline exists because Ald. Resnick is crafting legislation to make the practice allowable and because the TPC asked members to further discuss the issue.

downtown25

I would agree that text of headline and text of article are saying different things. From the headline, I certainly got the impression that the city fully supported this and just needed to adjust an ordinance to make everyone happy.

MadisonAreaMan

Hey, Jeff,

Thanks for the reply! It's good to know reporters read comments. Makes it interactive.

But we'll just have to continue to disagree.

Given your reply, there are two points in response.

1. The only sentence in the article that refers to Ald. Resnick crafting legislation comes at the very end of the piece. The body of the piece is about the enforcement issue. I'm no editor of a newspaper but to me that seems like an odd thing to do, hang a title on one lone sentence at the very end of the piece.

2. This point is more important than the first: The title begins with "City examining..." Since when is one alderman, in this case Alder Resnick without any support from other alders-- at least none mentioned in the article-- enough to constitute the use of "City"? Alder Resnick is enough to represent the City? I haven't asked my alder how he/she feels about this issue but he/she will be surprised to learn that Alder Resnick is speaking for the whole City.

madisoncabbie

Mr. Glaze, did you write the headline? (I know a lot of writers don't) If you didn't who did? Do they have an agenda? They obviously only read your last sentence of the article before giving it a headline. Grossly misleading and inaccurate.

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