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Sep 26, 2014 6:59 PM

California cities crack down on ride-sharing firms

The Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Ride-sharing companies Uber, Lyft and Sidecar are being threatened with legal action in San Francisco and Los Angeles over how they screen drivers and charge passengers, along with other business practices.

The cities' district attorneys sent letters to the three companies, warning they could face legal action if they fail to change the practices.

The company Sidecar publicly released a copy of the letter it received Thursday from San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon.

Gascon said he and Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey have concluded Sidecar is making "misleading representations" on its website that it screens out drivers "who have ever committed driving violations, DUI, sexual assault and other criminal offenses."

The prosecutors also claim the way Sidecar calculates shared fares allowing people going the same way to hop in a car and pay separately is illegal.

Sidecar's rivals Lyft and Uber received similar letters that also included complaints about airport trips and the transparency and accuracy of the companies' fares. The companies and Gascon's office declined to release those letters.

In the letter to Sidecar, Gascon and Lacy threatened to seek fines and other penalties in court if the company didn't comply with his demands to change its business practices. The district attorneys want a response by Monday and a face-to-face meeting by Oct. 8.

Sidecar chief executive Sunil Paul said the company conducts criminal background checks reaching back seven years for each driver. He said he believes the message on the company's website is accurate, but that he's open to discussions with Gascon.

Meanwhile, Paul defended the company's new "shared rides" carpooling feature that Gascon and Lacy say violate California law barring drivers from charging separate fees for passengers in the same car going to the same destination. Paul said the law is "archaic and arcane."

Officials with Uber and Lyft didn't return phone calls Friday. However, each company issued a statement saying company officials would meet with the district attorneys.

"The DAs have made numerous inaccurate assertions that we will correct and discuss with them," Uber spokeswoman Eva Behrend said.

"We are confident that we can work with the District Attorneys' offices to address the items outlined in their letter and look forward to discussing with them soon to do so," Lyft spokeswoman Paige Thelen said.

The legal threats are the latest challenges to the companies that have popular smartphone apps allowing passengers to order rides in privately driven cars instead of taxis.

Cab and limo operators in places such as New Mexico and Washington state have sued the ride-sharing businesses. Officials in some states have enacted rules regulating the companies, while other cities and states have struggled to pass laws.

"We value innovation and new modes of providing service to the public," San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon said in a statement. "However, we need to make sure the safety and wellbeing of consumers are adequately protected in the process."


Information from: San Francisco Chronicle, http://www.sfgate.com


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