Uber to take on Lyft, Sidecar with ridesharing service

Regulatory ambiguities could offer a way into the market, Uber says

Lyft and Sidecar may be the kings of ridesharing right now, but Uber is coming up in the rearview mirror.

The San Francisco-based black car service will offer its own ridesharing service in markets where regulators have given tacit approval to those services, Uber said Friday on its website.

Lyft and Sidecar both offer mobile apps that allow people to secure rides from drivers who are not required to have commercial insurance or licenses. Uber's black car service relies primarily on partnerships with commercially licensed transportation providers.

Uber has refrained from offering a ridesharing service in the past because of the risk that its drivers may be fined or face criminal misdemeanors for providing unlicensed transportation for pay, Uber explained. But in most cities across the U.S., this is not the scenario that has been playing out.

"This course of non-action resulted in massive regulatory ambiguity leading to one-sided competition which Uber has not engaged in to its own disadvantage," the company said.

It's not clear exactly when Uber will enter the ridesharing market, however. "We look forward to ridesharing spreading across the country but look to do so only after first getting a read from regulators on this new relaxed approach to transportation licensing and enforcement," the company said.

"This is a statement of national policy that will guide how we look at cities that adopt a non-enforcement policy on ridesharing," Uber spokesman Stu Loeser explained further in an email. "We'll watch how regulators respond to existing ridesharing operations and assess market need before we roll out similar services," he said.

Uber will offer ridesharing in any market where competitors have been operating for 30 days without direct enforcement from regulators. It declined to say when its new service will begin or in which cities.

It will incorporate safeguards into the service by applying a US$2,000,000 insurance policy to ridesharing trips and performing background checks on drivers, Uber said.

Uber has faced significant pushback for its black car service from the taxi industry, including proposed regulations to outlaw it in some cities where it operates. But regulators have chosen not to enforce rules against ridesharing, it said, possibly because they think the rules don't apply or because they are in the midst of adopting new rules.

Under Uber's current model, partners must buy their own cars, purchase commercial insurance, and spend thousands of dollars to become commercially licensed, the company said.

To become a Lyft driver, meanwhile, applicants must be at least 23 years old and must pass a phone screen, an in-person meeting and background and DMV record checks, according to Lyft's website. For Sidecar, drivers must undergo a training session in their city and have "a clean driving record," according to the Sidecar site.

Neither Lyft nor Sidecar immediately responded to a request to comment on Uber's plans.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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