Saturday, February 24, 2024

Uber, the car service facing a Cambridge lawsuit, is also being sued — and fined — in its hometown, San Francisco.

That has the company facing legal actions from government in Cambridge, New York and Washington, D.C., and from taxi drivers in Chicago. The company’s issues in San Francisco include both: a class-action lawsuit filed by taxi drivers unhappy the service may be taking away customers and a $20,000 fine from the California Public Utilities Commission for running an unlicensed charter business. The same amount was demanded of Lyft and SideCar, competitors in the smartphone-enabled car service business that don’t operate in Eastern Massachusetts.

To use the services, smartphone owners download apps and use them to summon taxis or livery cars. The app takes money out of a user account to pay for the ride, either because a driver enters the fee or because the app estimates the distance and cost of the ride itself. The services connect people and drivers but don’t employ drivers.

Those suing the car services say they are unregulated, while the companies say they are using drivers who are already regulated — licensed and driving cars that are tested — and complain that the California agency incorrectly sees them as limousine services. Here’s how SideCar’s chief executive, Sunil Paul, defends his service:

Asserting that we are operating a transportation carrier … is like saying Airbnb is a hotel chain, that Travelocity is an airline, or that eBay is a store. We established SideCar to allow drivers and passengers to connect with one another under the safe harbor of the ridesharing provisions of the law.  We neither own nor operate cars.  We neither employ nor use contract drivers.

The tech site Betabeat wrote about the filings Wednesday.

Massachusetts’ Division of Standards filed a lawsuit against Uber in August but withdrew it quickly. Cambridge filed its own lawsuit in September, saying using GPS to determine the length of a trip and charge customers isn’t approved by regulators. The suit drew opposition from city councillors and residents who see it as being at odds with the city’s claim as a home to innovation. Councillors held a 40-minute closed-door session Oct. 15 to assess where it stood on asking the city to withdraw the suit, with silence following.