As cities and states continue to crack down on popular rideshare services, in part over labor concerns, lawmakers see no contradiction in paving the way for driverless vehicles to start taking over the streets.
On Thursday, Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Richard Holcomb sent cease-and-desist letters to Uber and Lyft, which operate services that allow smartphone users to find and hail drivers for hire. The order comes on the heels of the state DMV's decision in April to levy civil penalties that added up to $35,000 against the two companies.
The conflict stems from misaligned definitions of the services that Uber and Lyft provide. Holcomb says that the two companies' operations "are not ridesharing arrangements as defined by Virginia law because Uber receives compensation for its services." If they were such arrangements, he said, they would be exempt from regulations that govern taxi services. But the companies dispute his characterization, claiming that their apps simply match passengers with drivers.
Both companies plan to continue operations in Virginia.
Uber and similar services have clashed with regulators in the U.S. and abroad because their unregulated model undercuts the wages of licensed cab drivers. But some of the cities and states that are trying to limit Uber's reach in order to protect their existing taxi systems are also tripping over themselves to lay down a legal framework for an impending wave of driverless cars — and autonomous car services would eliminate labor from transportation entirely.