The New York attorney general and the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) together filed a temporary restraining order against ridesharing company Lyft today, which planned to begin service in two boroughs of the city beginning at 7PM local time. The company had one sit-down meeting with officials about offering the service, which lets people order rides from registered Lyft drivers using their mobile phones. Lyft then announced it would begin service, despite local officials saying they were still evaluating whether the service complied with local transit laws. Apparently that was a step too far, and both the New York attorney general and TLC have taken immediate legal action to keep the service from running as planned, and are now calling it a threat to public safety.
"Defendant has simply waltzed into New York and set up shop."
"As it has done in every other city in which it operates, defendant has simply waltzed into New York and set up shop while defying every law passed whose very purpose is to protect the People of the State of New York," today's order says. "Despite being warned and told to cease and desist by three separate regulatory and enforcement agencies, defendant has thumbed its nose at the law and continued with its plan to launch in what could become its largest market."
The attorney general's filing goes on to call Lyft nothing more than a traditional car hiring service that happens to use a smartphone to dispatch rides. It also claims both the attorney general and TLC "urged Lyft to postpone its expansion by two weeks," to change Lyft's business model to comply with local laws.
Today's launch was eventually put on hold, and no ruling was made on the temporary restraining order. Now Lyft plans to launch next Monday if the court sides with it instead of the New York attorney general and the TLC.
"We are in a legal process with local regulators today and will proceed accordingly," Lyft spokesperson Erin Simpson said in a statement. "We always seek to work collaboratively with leaders in the interests of public safety and the community, as we've done successfully in cities and states across the country, and hope to find a path forward for ridesharing in New York."
Lyft planned two weeks of free service
Earlier this week, the New York TLC warned potential Lyft drivers that it planned to crack down on the service's inaugural run, which was originally set to offer free service for its first two weeks. The TLC said it would fine drivers up to $2,000 if they were caught picking people up, and threatened to take away vehicles for those who were registered as certified drivers with the TLC.
Companies like Lyft, Uber, Sidecar, and others have had a tenuous relationship with transportation groups in major cities. Those groups have gone after the companies over how thorough background checks are on drivers, as well as the vehicles that are used in versions of the service where fleet vehicles are not used. Concerns over insurance and liability have also pushed those companies to boost the coverage of drivers, and change local laws for when rides begin and end.
Update July 11th, 2:21PM: with links to the orders and details from the filings.
Update July 11th, 4:19PM: Bloomberg reports that Lyft has delayed its New York City launch until July 14th, pending court approval. The New York attorney general's office has also issued a statement, saying "we are hopeful that Lyft will now recognize that it has to play by the same set of rules as everyone else."