SANTA FE (AP) – Months after confusion and threats of ordered closures, New Mexico regulators approved new rules on Wednesday to allow ride-booking services Lyft and Uber to operate in the state.
The Public Regulation Commission voted 4-1 on new regulations that clear the way for the companies to function under guidelines separate from those that govern traditional taxi services. However, it wasn’t immediately clear if Uber and Lyft will apply for licenses under the new rules or continue to operate in the state without authority while facing fines.
The San Francisco-based Lyft and Uber use smartphone programs to connect people seeking rides with people who have cars.
“This is a new and evolving business, and we need to evolve with it,” Commission Chairwoman Karen Montoya said. New Mexico regulators need to work with companies who want to come to the state and create jobs, she said.
But Commissioner Valerie Espinoza, who voted against many of the new rules, said it seemed unfair that the commission was creating new rules at the expense of smaller, traditional taxi companies.
“It seems like we’re jumping through a lot of hoops to accommodate Lyft and Uber,” she said. “It doesn’t create a level playing field.”
Dion Hindi, vice president of ABQ Cab Co., a taxi company in Albuquerque, agreed that new rules gave Uber and Lyft an unfair advantage.
“We’ve been following the rules for more than 40 years,” Hindi said. “We’re a small company with 50 drivers, and they are multimillion dollar businesses. Why do they get new rules?”
Lyft spokeswoman Chelsea Wilson said company representatives had not seen the final version of the New Mexico guidelines and she couldn’t provide further comment until then.
In a statement after the vote, Uber spokeswoman Taylor Patterson said: “We look forward to working with the PRC and are hopeful they are committed to bringing ridesharing to New Mexico with regulations that recognize this innovative business model.”
The legal status of Uber and Lyft had been in limbo since they began offering services in the state last year. The businesses say the state’s Motor Carrier Act doesn’t apply to them because neither operates as a commercial taxi business. Rather, they offer an online service that allows people with cars to connect with people seeking rides.
However, commissioners voted Wednesday that ride-sharing services fell under that state’s motor special services regulation and thus were subjected to regulations. The decision came after state lawmakers failed to pass a bill that would have clarified rules that would have allowed Uber and Lyft to operate amid old laws.
Commissioners were divided on drug-testing requirements for ride-booking drivers and voted 3-2 to require testing only after accidents.
Last year, the commission ordered Lyft to cease operations in Albuquerque, where the company had launched its service. A district judge in Santa Fe refused to enforce the commission’s order, allowing the company to operate in the capital city.