Illinois lawmakers are considering a bill that would hold rideshare companies to a stricter standard of care for their passengers.
Uber and Lyft are currently exempt from the so-called “common carrier” standard that applies to other forms of transportation like taxis, railroads and airlines. It means that entities moving travelers from point A to point B are held to a high standard of keeping those passengers safe from harm.
“You are turning over your safety to the person that is behind the wheel,” said the bill’s lead sponsor, state Rep. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz (D-Glenview). “That is really the rationale for the heightened standard of care that applies to common carriers, and similarly, doesn’t support the continued exemption from that standard of care for Uber and Lyft.”
Gong-Gershowitz is sponsoring a bill that would take away rideshare companies’ exemption from the common carrier standard. She says when lawmakers first moved to regulate rideshare companies, they were scrappy upstarts and the idea was to help encourage competition. Given their ubiquity now, she says the exemption just doesn’t make sense – and that holding them to a higher standard will make everyone safer.
Both Uber and Lyft are opposed to the bill. In its testimony to the House committee that heard the bill, Lyft said: “Since day one, we’ve built safety into every part of the Lyft experience.”
“While a common carrier company may employ a few dozen professional chauffeurs, (rideshare companies) rely on an enormous network of thousands of independent drivers who control when, where and how often they work,” the company told lawmakers.
Brad Tietz, vice president of government relations and strategy with the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, echoed that criticism. He argues taking an Uber or Lyft is an agreement between driver and rider – which to his mind is a safety measure in and of itself.
“I have the ability, when I pull up Uber or Lyft, to see the background of this driver. If he’s only got 2.5 to 3 stars, I cancel that ride,” Tietz said. “Maybe it’s a $5 charge for me, but I’m willing to take that in lieu of riding with somebody I don’t believe is going to be safe.”
For its part, an Uber spokesperson told WTTW News: “This proposal would make Illinois the only state that treats rideshare this way, severely impacting drivers’ ability to earn money.”
A handful of other states do hold rideshare companies to the common carrier standard, though those measures haven’t been passed by state lawmaker action and have faced challenges.
Clark Kaericher of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce is also opposed to the bill. He says state law already requires Uber and Lyft to carry $1 million insurance policies in case passengers are hurt or killed. Kaericher also thinks additional regulation could push rideshare companies to leave the state, costing drivers work and making it tougher for people to get around.
“It ferries business travelers and tourists all around the state,” Kaericher said. “Most importantly, it’s a huge public safety tool which keeps tens of thousands of potential drunk drivers off the road each year and makes us all safer as we get around.”
But Gong-Gershowitz says that’s not the only safety consideration, with drivers accused of physically and sexually assaulting passengers. And she argues the companies are doing just fine in places where they face tighter restrictions.
“We simply cannot continue to exempt Uber and Lyft from the same standards of care that would apply to any other taxi, train, common carrier,” Gong-Gershowitz said. “One of my colleagues pointed out that a Ferris wheel is a common carrier in Illinois. Uber and Lyft are common carriers and should be treated as such.”
The bill has passed the House Judiciary Civil committee. Gong-Gershowitz says she’s looking forward to taking it to the House floor for debate.