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Transportation’s future: how ride-share services are changing the way we commute

Transportation is changing. Over the past few years, ride-share services like Uber and Lyft have altered the way we think about traveling. Now, by simply downloading a free application for their phones, setting up an account and pressing a button, commuters can have a driver ready to pick them up in minutes and take them anywhere for less than the price of a taxi.

With General Motors’ recent $500 million investment in Lyft, based out of San Francisco, ride-sharing will likely continue to alter the transportation landscape. The two companies are partnering to introduce self-driving cars into the ride-share model.

Mary Caroline Pruitt, a spokeswoman for Lyft, said the investment is in line with Lyft’s goal of “keeping people connected by filling seats in cars.” GM and Lyft share a vision of self-driving cars becoming commonplace in ride-sharing, which is also called the “peer-to-peer model,” she added.

In the more short-term, GM’s investment will allow Lyft drivers to rent its cars at discounted rates at Hertz hubs across the county.

However, pressure from the government for Lyft and Uber to conform to taxi regulations and a new California law that specifies that “[a] licensed operator will be required to be present inside the vehicle and be capable of taking control in the event of a technology failure or other emergency,” could hinder both those efforts.

Some claim that the rental car method goes against Uber and Lyft’s claims that they are not the same as a taxi service.

Yoha Singh, manager at Santa Clara Cab Company, said his business has fallen roughly 60 percent since the introduction of ride-sharing. The ease with which drivers can drive for Lyft and Uber has also made it hard to keep employees, he added.

At this rate, he said he will likely be out of business in a year or two. There is nothing his company can do to combat the issue, he said, because his hands are tied.

“In my eyes, the city heavily regulates taxi companies,” he said. “Taxis have to be deregulated or [ride-sharing] has to be regulated. We cannot change our prices whenever we want to. The rates are done by the city.”

Pruitt said the regulations for cab companies need to be updated to reflect ride-share services. Such a lack of uniformity creates disparities in the service Lyft can offer, making it necessary for Lyft to educate legislators in some states on ride-sharing, she said.

Still, Pruitt said Lyft is looking to the future. It is working hard to give drivers better incentives to drive for Lyft, including same-day payment and discounted gas. Lyft is mainly concerned with operating in as many cities as possible to be able to offer some version of its service to as many people as possible, she said.

“I don’t think consumers will worry,” she said. “It is a product difference, but I don’t think that does anything to our business … anytime we are unable to operate somewhere because of regulation, we will communicate that to our customers.”

The peer-to-peer model is even spilling over into public transportation. The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) launched a pilot program for VTA Flex, a program similar to ride-sharing in January.

Stacey Hendler Ross, a VTA spokeswoman, said the program will last between six months to a year; VTA is offering Flex in the area bordered by Guadalupe River, Coyote Creek, Montague Expressway and Highway 237. The price is similar to VTA’s fixed routes, costing between $2 and $3 for a one-way trip but aggregates rides by taking up to 22 people at a time, she added.

Ross said the program did not require hiring drivers or purchasing new equipment. However, she was unable to explain how VTA is essentially adding another route without spending more money adding shifts for Flex drivers.


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