The folks at Lyft aren't quite twirling their giant pink mustaches at the City of Minneapolis – but the app-based car-sharing service seems fine with pushing some government buttons.
Lyft launched its service in the City of Lakes Thursday, despite warnings from officials that the company cannot operate there without obtaining a taxi license. Minneapolis requires a license for the driver, another for the vehicle, and a service company license. All of those comes with fees and strict regulations.
According to the Pioneer Press, the city says Lyft requires those licenses; if the company operates normally without them, the city has said it will ticket and impound the vehicles. Lyft, the paper says, insists it is not a taxi service and should not be beholden to those same regulations.
This promotion, the Star Tribune explains, lets the company temporarily avoid violating the city's definition of a taxicab: A vehicle "regularly engaged in the business of carrying passengers for hire." The Head of Business Licensing, Grant Wilson, tells the paper the government will not enforce those regulations until Lyft begins charging customers.
So for the two weeks of the free ride deal – only valid for trips up to $25, by the way – the company and city officials have a negotiating window; the sides could hammer out an agreement by then and prevent further issues.
How does Lyft actually work? People can download the company's mobile app, and through it, request a ride. People who have signed up to be drivers then use their own cars – adorned with a large, fuzzy pink mustache – to pick up and drop off the customers.
Riders pay drivers directly through the app; there's no meter in the vehicle. That allows the service to run in St. Paul without similar issues.
The service, WCCO explains, encourages a more personal experience compared to regular cabs.
"We encourage our passengers to sit in the front seat,” Alma Aldrich, Lyft's launch team manager, told the station. “We first bump at the start and end of every Lyft, and your driver will be able to take you wherever you need to go in the city.”
The San Francisco-based Lyft already operates in more than 20 cities – but like in Minneapolis not always smoothly. Regulators in Columbus, Ohio, Houston, and Seattle have all scraped paint with the company over the legality of its services.