Omaha chamber president urges ‘proactive solution’ on Lyft, Uber

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Posted: Wednesday, April 30, 2014 12:00 am

The Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce president on Wednesday asked state regulators to “find a proactive solution” that would allow transportation services like Lyft and Uber to operate in the metro area.

“Expansion of transportation choices is a key part of our effort to grow and diversify the metro population and workforce,” chamber President David Brown wrote in a letter to members of the Nebraska Public Service Commission.

By Wednesday afternoon, representatives of the commission and the chamber were arranging to meet next week.

The commission last week told Lyft and Uber to stop advertising for drivers in the state and threatened to have vehicles impounded if the services charged for rides here without first obtaining a state certificate.

Lyft launched April 24 in Lincoln and Omaha, offering free rides for two weeks. The startup operates in 60 U.S. cities with its app that allows riders to connect via smartphone with independent drivers who use their private vehicles to provide rides.

Nebraska regulators are currently in talks with law enforcement officials about how to respond if Lyft begins charging.

In his letter, Brown expressed “concern” with the commission’s initial response and suggested it conflicts with the chamber’s effort “to project Greater Omaha as an attractive place to live and work, and one where innovation is embraced.”

He said the chamber understands that new business models can conflict with established laws.

“But we also believe that when opportunities emerge, a way can be found to make them work,” he said.

The two commissioners representing the Omaha area said Wednesday that there is little they can do without cooperation or communication from Lyft, which has not applied for a certificate to operate or provided commissioners proof of its insurance coverage.

“We’re open here (to change),” Commissioner Tim Schram said, adding that the commission can’t clear a path for Lyft without following legal procedures. He said the commission has to be fair to carriers that already have gone through the process to operate legally.

Commissioner Anne Boyle said commissioners have to be impartial to all carriers and cannot advocate for any one company to operate in Nebraska.

“The pressure to do this is really a pressure for us to break the law,” she said. “Yes, we can possibly get this done with the proper procedures, but right now, it cannot get done overnight.”

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