Companies operating phone app rideshare services such as Lyft, UberX and SideCar will now be allowed to operate across the state under a set of regulations approved today by the California Public Utilities Commission.
Rideshare services allow people in need of rides to use a downloadable smartphone app to make arrangements with those willing to drive them to their destinations, often for a fee.
The spread of rideshare companies to several major cities around the country have been welcomed by tech-savvy ride-sharers, but also have drawn the ire of the taxi industry and some city officials, including in Los Angeles.
The taxi industry must follow strict city laws, many aimed at protecting the public's safety, that many of rideshare services are flouting, taxi company representatives said.
Rick Taylor, a spokesman for taxi firm Los Angeles Yellow Cab, said it was a "sad day" and contended the new regulations are not as strict as those followed by taxi companies.
The state commission "decided to turn their backs on safe legal drivers," he said.
The rideshare companies, however, appear to have a friend in Mayor Eric Garcetti, whose spokeswoman hailed the PUC's decision today as "good news."
"Mayor Garcetti wants to see ridesharing become a fully-integrated part of L.A.'s transportation system," said mayoral spokeswoman Vicki Curry.
She addressed concerns raised by the taxi industry that such services may endanger public safety, saying they are "assessing next steps" and "will continue working with our taxi companies to improve their competitiveness and service moving forward."
Garcetti's support of the rideshare app companies puts him at odds with other city officials, including those in the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, who earlier this year issued "cease-and-desist" letters to several of the companies, accusing them of operating as bandit taxicab services.
City Council members also have introduced motions seeking to regulate the rideshare companies at a local level and resolutions that would oppose state regulation of the services.
Taylor said Yellow Cab will "continue to talk to and build a coalition" among City Council members. "Hopefully we can get the mayor to understand the safety issue," he said.
Under the PUC's new rules, the rideshare companies will be considered "charter party passenger carrier" and be put under a new category called "Transportation Network Company."
The companies must get a license from the PUC, require criminal background checks of drivers, create a driver training program, take up a "zero-tolerance" policy on drug and alcohol use, buy commercial liability insurance policy with a minimum $1 million coverage and do a 19-point car inspection.