'We have a serious problem in Nebraska': PSC discusses concerns over Uber, Lyft

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Posted: Wednesday, April 23, 2014 12:00 am

The Nebraska Public Service Commissioner on Tuesday discussed concerns about online ride services Uber and Lyft possibly launching operations in Nebraska.

Commissioner Anne Boyle said she has warned Omaha hotel operators and city officials that visitors and residents should not use the services, which use apps to connect riders with local drivers who use their own vehicles to give rides.

Boyle is concerned that the services could launch in time for the May 3 Berkshire Hathaway Inc. annual meeting and the College World Series in June.

“We have a serious problem in Nebraska,” said Boyle, who is concerned that the services would not provide customers with the same safety protections as regulated taxicab companies. The services say they conduct background checks on their drivers, provide liability insurance for drivers and conduct safety inspections on vehicles.

Boyle said she has contacted Omaha police, the office of Mayor Jean Stothert and the Metropolitan Hospitality Association.

Both Uber and Lyft, San Francisco-based startups, have advertised for drivers in Nebraska.

Commission transportation director Mark Breiner on Monday sent letters to the services telling them to stop advertising for drivers and warning that they would be in violation of state law if they operate in Nebraska.

The services have come under fire from taxi companies and regulators in numerous states and cities.

Neither service has announced concrete plans to operate in Nebraska. But the commission was clear on what would happen if they do.

“If they begin operation, I believe our next step would be to enforce the law,” Breiner said.

Jim Campin, an owner of Emerald Limousine, which operates in Lincoln and Omaha, told the commission he wants the state to hold online-ride service drivers to the same standards as taxi and limo companies.

Uber and Lyft customers use a rating system to share information about the quality of their drivers. Campin said that's not enough to protect the public.

In his experience, he said, “Not a single customer is going to call in and say, 'Are you properly licensed and insured?' ”

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