After weeks of threats, Madison undercover officers have nailed two rideshare drivers with tickets totaling $1,317 each.
On Friday an undercover officer, after being charged $14.35 for a ride downtown from Odana Road, ticketed Uber driver Michael Jesson of Middleton for three violations — $313 for operating without a name and photo ID, $313 for operating without a vehicle permit tag, and $691 for illegally transporting a passenger for hire — for a total of $1,317. He was also cited for making an illegal U-turn. On Saturday a second undercover officer nicked Lyft driver Vincent Cozzi, 59, of Madison, for the same amount after being charged $17 for a ride from University Avenue to the Dane County Airport.
On the heels of the enforcement action, representatives from the two ridesharing companies will in town Tuesday to make their case for the rideshare industry in a panel discussion with the general manager of one of the taxi companies fighting their incursion into the Madison market.
The Wisconsin Technology Council is hosting the discussion Tuesday at 11:30 a.m. at a luncheon at the Sheraton Hotel, 706 John Nolen Drive. The cost: $35 for non-members and $25 for members.
The panel will include Candice Taylor from Lyft and Nick Anderson from Uber, the two ridesharing companies that have cut into taxi profits in other cities and are fighting a national multi-front war against established taxi services and government regulators. They will be appearing with Green Cab of Madison general manager Phil Anderson, who has problems with allowing competition that doesn’t have to follow the same rules as established taxi services. Also scheduled to appear is downtown Madison Ald. Scott Resnick, a likely mayoral candidate who plans to introduce a city ordinance that would allow the upstart companies to operate legally.
The rideshares have the potential to rise to the level of a campaign issue because Mayor Paul Soglin has warned them to adhere to taxi regulations or risk fines.
Uber and Lyft are the two most prominent of a number of rideshare services that have perplexed U.S. city officials and drawn fire from established taxi companies. They have been operating in Madison since late February.
While the rideshares have been met with hostility in some communities, others have given them free rein. An example of the divide can be seen in the Twin Cities, where St. Paul has allowed rideshare drivers to operate without conditions and Minneapolis has required them to obtain taxi licenses.
But the largest battleground is in Illinois, where the burgeoning rideshare industry is fighting statewide regulations currently pending in the state house.
Uber and Lyft drivers use their own cars, connecting with customers through smartphone apps in a process that operates under the radar of city officials, with the exception of the large pink mustaches that adorn Lyft vehicles. The companies claim to be exempt from taxi rules because the drivers use their personal vehicles and don’t charge fares, asking instead for “donations.”
Resnick, a likely mayoral candidate, says he’s planning to introduce an ordinance that would ban rideshare drivers from picking up hails. But Resnick said the city's Transit and Parking Commission will decide whether or not to hold them to the requirement of operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Local taxi companies are hoping the city will adopt rules to keep rideshares from picking off fares during peak times and adjusting the prices of fares at will, without the cost of maintaining operations round-the-clock.