DENVER — Frustrated and angry, more than 100 cabbies pulled up outside the Colorado Statehouse early this legislative session to protest tech startups known as ridesharing services.
The taxi drivers say the emerging firms, which allow passengers to hail rides with the swipe of a smartphone, are avoiding costly requirements that they and other commercial drivers are forced to follow.
Ridesharing company officials say they’re open to regulation and point to self-imposed controls such as criminal background checks as proof of their willingness to cooperate. They’re also pushing back, saying critics and protesters are only trying to suppress competition and legislate them out of business.
The dispute in Denver mirrors similar fights playing out across the nation as state lawmakers and city government officials consider how to regulate emerging Web-based businesses that provide a service similar to that offered by traditional cab and limo companies, but under a distinctly different model.
“You know, change isn’t easy,” said Colorado Democratic Rep. Cheri Jahn. “But sometimes it’s time to move forward.”
The companies use mobile apps that connect passengers to drivers, often everyday people seeking extra income by picking up fares as they commute or run errands. Passengers pay through the app and can even tip electronically.
One well known firm, Uber, operates in more than 70 cities around the world, offering everything from quick rides to luxury service.
Another, Lyft, has become known for pink mustaches on front bumpers and does business in more than 20 U.S. cities.
Neither has publicly released financial figures or user statistics.
“There’s all kinds of ways to avoid costs, which goes to the corporate bottom line,” said Al LaGasse, CEO of the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association. “But is that really in the public’s interest?”