On April 12, a Colorado House committee will vote on a bill that would remove a stipulation that drivers for ride-share companies like Uber and Lyft get medically cleared to drive in Colorado. SB17-043 passed the Republican-controlled Senate in late January.
Currently, medical exams are performed by a driver's doctor or by medical professionals provided by Lyft and Uber. Uber charges a $50 fee, while Lyft exams are free. The exam, created by the state's Public Utilities Commission, primarily checks for limb impairment, diabetes, cardiovascular and respiratory conditions, hypertension, muscular and arthritic diseases, epilepsy and mental disorders. The exam also checks drivers' vision and inquires into their drug use and alcohol consumption.
Senator Owen Hill, one of the bill's sponsors, questions the thoroughness of the exams. He doubts that they make roads safer. “Are we actually safer because someone over there looked at you and said, 'Well, he's got a pulse; therefore, we're going to certify him'?” he asks. “We constantly talk about getting these regulations out of the way that don't actually create a safer environment and usually are just a bigger hurdle for people to go and earn a paycheck. We don't require this for school-bus drivers. It's not like we have a rash of dangerous school-bus drivers out on the road that are endangering dozens of kids' lives at a time. So if we don't require it for school-bus drivers, why would we have this meaningless requirement there for Uber and Lyft drivers?” (Clarification: Obtaining a Commercial Driver's License requires a medical certificate, and getting a school bus endorsement on a CDL could also require a physical.)
Jeremiah Kidanemairam, a local limousine company owner and member of the Colorado Limousine Association, would like to see the bill shot down, citing consumer safety concerns. “We at the Colorado Limo Association are against any legislation that would put the public safety at risk,” he says. “We can't believe that Lyft would lobby for a bill that would put their users and the rest of the Colorado public safety at risk. We hope that our elected state officials would do the right thing and stop this bill from passing.”
Kidanemairam cites reports of ride-share drivers having seizures at the wheel as an example of the type of danger that could come from not medically clearing drivers before they hit the road. Currently, taxi and limo drivers must be medically examined.
If Kidanemairam and Hill agree on anything, it may that regulations for Lyft and Uber drivers aren't nearly as restraining as those for the taxi and limo industries. For example, for one of Kidanemairam's drivers to pick up a passenger at Denver International Airport, that driver has to park and check into DIA with his or her information and the passenger's information. The driver is given a pass and has to try and time the arrival of the passenger just right, because for every half hour that the driver waits in the pickup area, he or she is charged a fee.
These fees add up, costing Kidanemairam over a thousand dollars each month. An Uber or Lyft driver can just show up whenever they want and wait as long as they want for free until they get a passenger.
The reason limos and taxis are treated differently than ride-share companies is because the latter aren't considered public utilities like limos or taxis, even though they're essentially performing the same service.
Hill would like to keep ride-sharing as unregulated as possible, allowing maximum freedom for Uber and Lyft to operate as they see fit. “It gets me back to my more Libertarian-leaning roots and saying we failed when we went down this path to view transportation as a government service. Entrepreneurial, hardworking people out there could really solve this problem a lot better for us than a highly regulated market,” he says. “If the taxi model was so wonderful, Uber and Lyft would have never come around. They came around and they've been so successful because they addressed a very real problem created by the regulations we put on taxi drivers.”
Kidanemairam drivers are thoroughly vetted, they wear pressed black suits, they know where they're going without a GPS, and they'll handle your luggage and offer you water. When you're picked up by a Lyft or Uber driver, you have no idea who you're getting, and removing the medical certification from the process makes it an even riskier proposition, according to Kidanemairam. If the bill passes, the only requirements for Lyft or Uber drivers would be a valid driver's license, proof of automobile insurance, and proof of Colorado vehicle registration.
As Uber and Lyft continue to gain market share, Kidanemairam can't help but be irked that the two companies were able to come into a heavy regulated market and operate without having to worry about many of those regulations. He says that Colorado and New York are the only two states that require medical exams in order to drive for Uber or Lyft, and he wants Colorado to stay on that list.
The committee meeting will be at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 12, in Capitol HCR 0112.
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