KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The Kansas City council rushed through a change in ordinance on Thursday designed to toughen the city’s stance against ride-sharing service Lyft, which the city says has been operating here illegally.
The ordinance change targeted Lyft’s funding model, which is based on “donations” from riders to drivers, instead of a traditional fee-for-service cab model.
In changing just a few words of city ordinance on livery cabs, the city effectively classified Lyft cars as livery cabs, subjecting them to stringent city regulation or more citations.
“The City believes Lyft’s services were and are illegal both before and after this ordinance change,” City Spokesman Chris Hernandez said in a statement. “However, we believe this change of wording, to explicitly ban the practice of accepting “donations” rather than fares or fixed charges, makes it even more clear that ridesharing services such as Lyft must follow city regulations to ensure the safety of passengers.”
The ordinance had not been on the city’s planned agenda for the day and did not go through the normal committee process. Hernandez said the rushed schedule was due to safety concerns about the continued operation of unlicensed, uninspected, unregulated vehicles on city streets.
One council member even invoked last summer’s deadly party bus accident as an example of the dangers of unregulated vehicles on city streets.
Lyft appeared caught off-guard by the ordinance change.
"Tonight's vote was not publicized or anticipated,” spokesperson Chelsea Wilson told 41 Action News in an email. “We're still reviewing the details of the ordinance and exploring its impact on Kansas City transportation options."
Hernandez said the city is working with Uber, a Lyft competitor about coming to the Kansas City market.
“Uber has been working with the city for a while now to make sure that they are in compliance with any existing laws or to change ordinances before they launch here,” Hernandez said. “In the meantime, Lyft just come in and does their thing.”
A Lyft driver hired by 41 Action News for a short trip said further citations by the city would not change the company’s status in Kansas City, or his willingness to drive for them.
“If they want to cite me or take away my car or arrest me, I'm still going to wake up the next day and do this,” he said.