Uber and Lyft working on becoming legal in Virginia


Soon to be seen in Virginia: A Lyft car drives next to a taxi in San Francisco. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The car services Uber and Lyft are on their way to becoming legal in Virginia, but they’re not there yet.

Right now, it’s illegal for either company to pick up passengers in the commonwealth, although they can drop off riders coming from the District. After receiving “cease and desist” letters from the state Department of Motor Vehicles, both companies have applied for brokers’ licenses to operate in Virginia, a spokeswoman for the DMV confirmed.

“After those cease and desist letters went out, I knew there had to be a better way to resolve this issue,” Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said in a statement. “I’m glad we were able to get folks back to the table, and I appreciate the work my transportation team has done along with the DMV, the McAuliffe administration and the companies to try to give consumers more transportation options that are safe and appropriately regulated.”

Uber has also applied for temporary authority that would last until the license is issued. (Update: On Thursday afternoon, Lyft also applied for temporary authority.)

 “We look forward to a swift review of our DMV application and continuing to provide Virginians with the Uber they know and love,” Uber spokesman Taylor Bennett said.

The two companies had initially resisted applying for these licenses, arguing that their services — which pair riders to drivers by smartphone — should not fall under the regulations imposed on traditional cabs and car services. While Uber offers a professional livery service, both Uber and Lyft have become popular as a lower-cost option that pairs part-time drivers using their own cars with customers. These drivers undergo background checks but are not professionally licensed.

Before the cease-and-desist letters, both companies had been fined for operating in the commonwealth without proper licensing. Uber was hit with a $26,000 penalty, Lyft $9,000. After the letters were sent, police in Arlington said they had issued citations to several drivers who were stopped for other infractions.

Officials said talks between the state and the two companies had broken down before the letters were sent and revived in the wake of the notices.

The services have clashed in the D.C. region and around the country with traditional taxi companies, who argue that they should be subject to all the same regulations. City and state governments have been struggling to figure out how to deal with this new kind of cab, including how much insurance drivers should be compelled to carry.

Rachel Weiner covers cops and courts in Arlington and Alexandria.
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