Ridesharing companies face a number of difficulties in Michigan. Municipalities regulate taxis and the state regulates limousines, but Uber and Lyft don’t fall into either category. The legal gray area they occupy has made it difficult for drivers to operate in places like Ann Arbor, as described in a recent article.
By contrast, Uber received a warm welcome from law enforcement in Grand Rapids. Babacar, a driver there, said the police love Uber. “Basically, around two in the morning, we clean the city,” he says. “We take everybody home. I think that’s the reason the police love us, love the Uber drivers. We help them. We make their jobs very easy.”
Indeed, while the phenomenon requires further study, Uber has found that when ridesharing companies can freely operate in a city, drunk driving arrests drop by over 10 percent. One driver said he regularly drives people with a DUI on their record, adding that some will even bring Uber receipts to court to prove they’re being more responsible and making better decisions.
But ridesharing doesn’t just make the roads safer, it also provides large numbers of flexible jobs for those in need of extra income or a way to tide them over between jobs. When it is possible to begin working without obtaining a costly new license or starting a taxi company, ridesharing drivers can start work almost immediately, on their own terms — choosing their hours and where they want to work.
Ridesharing also has the potential to take cars off the road, cutting down on road congestion and pollution. In 2015, Uber launched a new service in New York City that matched up people making similar commutes to save them money and remove cars from rush hour traffic.
Michigan might be a different ballgame, but ridesharing has had an impact here, too. Tim, a driver in Ann Arbor, tells of a regular customer who sold her car after realizing that Uber would be a cheaper way to get to work: “It’s $100 a month, or $200 a month. But prior to that, they were paying the car payment, insurance and gas.”
Some believe that drivers for Uber and Lyft should be regulated like taxi drivers, and that the lack of a regulatory structure gives ridesharing an unfair advantage. “I think even the taxi industry is way over-regulated,” said Kevin, a driver from Flint, adding that the popularity of services like Lyft and Uber should “show legislators that people want an alternative.”
“A lot of people I give rides to never used a taxi before,” Kevin said. “They use this now because it’s so convenient and so easy.”
Rebecca, who drives in Grand Rapids, concurs. “The amount of young people I pick up amazes me,” she said. “I see that they’re getting rides and they’re being responsible, and it’s so inexpensive for them, whereas taxis are inconvenient, you have to sit around and wait for who knows how long and they’re very expensive.”
Ridesharing companies currently operate in metro Detroit, Ann Arbor, Lansing, East Lansing, Flint, Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids, but cannot expand services further until the Legislature passes an overarching framework for them to follow. The House passed a package of bills that would exempt ridesharing drivers from needing a special license and set parameters for insurance and how these companies provide their services. It sits in the Senate Regulatory Reforms Committee.
Learn more at mackinac.org/ridesharing.
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