“As long as people are very careful with that technology, I don’t think we should go overboard on restrictive regulations on that,” he told CNN in January.
In the same interview, Kalanick said: “I never want to see a full-blown Taxi.” But he argued that it was easy to add certain features to an app for those who want them, so instead of going down that path, Lyft will be “fundamentally a technology company.”
But that doesn’t necessarily preclude local regulations.
That led the city of Boston to propose restrictions on background checks and other safety measures for Lyft drivers. Under its plan, the drivers would be restricted from using state or local governments to manage or resolve disputes with passengers. They’d be required to record their hours of work and set weekly limits on how many customers they would take. They’d also be prohibited from taking any money from passengers, to the exclusion of any other income, and from reporting any negative incidents to the police.
Drivers would also have to hold a business license and pay a $700 annual fee, plus $50 a year for each customer.
Rather than follow Boston’s lead, Lyft settled on a compromise that grants its drivers some safety protections but includes no other regulations.
It’s an interesting maneuver. Lyft is providing drivers with shields to avoid physical interaction with passengers, just as it did with its own employees. But it’s not asking its drivers to put such protective measures into effect.
Uber also settled a smaller dispute over driver screening this week. But it did not agree to bans on certain practices. Instead, it committed to doing a better job of guaranteeing drivers that they would be able to leave their cars during a ride if they saw a threatening situation, plus requiring drivers to obtain a criminal background check within seven days of signing up.
In both cases, Uber and Lyft were reluctant to undertake the sort of expansive regulations that’s sought by the city of Boston.
When I asked Lyft about whether it was compromising on safety, its representatives declined to comment, noting that it has settled all questions in Massachusetts related to its drivers.
It’s unclear what the future holds for these battles. In the end, it appears there is a place for regulation, in conjunction with innovation. It might be better to let Lyft, Uber and others take any risks they want. After all, the cost of technology is that you have to risk being wrong.