San Francisco rideshare companies Uber and Lyft have been asked by an administrative law judge to produce sealed copies of both their umbrella and excess liability insurance policies, along with proof that they are providing workers’ compensation for employees.
Judge Robert Mason’s order comes as part of an ongoing rule-making process that will ultimately decide whether Uber and Lyft—along with similar companies SideCar, Tickengo, TransForm and InstantCab—have to abide by the same rules that govern traditional taxis.
The mobile-app-based startups have long argued that they hew to a different model more based in the tech industry than transportation sphere.
Uber General Manager Ilya Abyzov insisted that the company’s employees are its engineers and the drivers are merely hired guns. Thus, he said, the company had no obligation to produce evidence of workers’ comp for drivers.
Lyft spokeswoman Erin Simpson said that while Lyft has workers’ comp for the employees who handle marketing, engineering and development, “that doesn’t extend to people who use the driving platform.”
Both Uber and Lyft maintain that the excess liability policies they have already submitted should be enough to comply with a temporary agreement reached with the California Public Utilities Commission in January -- at least until permanent rules are established.
SideCar still hasn’t found middle ground with the commission, leaving it on the hook for a $20,000 citation foisted on all rideshare startups in November.
Others have expressed concern over what could happen if these startups really are tasked with handling a city’s transportation needs.
In a motion submitted April 25 -- just a couple weeks before Mason’s Friday ruling -- Melissa Kasnitz of the Center for Accessible Technology asked whether the startups are equipped to handle disabled passengers -- which includes wheelchair users, people with service animals and folks who need screen-readers to use a smartphone app. Such customers are traditionally harder to serve, she said, and they would not be well-suited to an industry that relies on rating systems wherein drivers and passengers evaluate each other.
Abyzov said Uber has worked to make its service more accessible, but it has been stymied by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which won’t allow the company to accept payments with paratransit debit cards.
Lyft’s legal counsel did not respond to requests for comment.
The startups have until May 31 to submit filings to Mason.