BUSTED! The Cops Showed Up for My First Lyft Ride

What happens when you’re caught using Lyft/Uber in a state where it’s “illegal”? Last night I found out.

Funnily enough it was also my first time using Lyft. I’d just flown into Tampa and wanted to try to get into Bern’s Steakhouse before it closed. Since it was late, I really didn’t want to mess with cabs, and I didn’t want to waste my free Uber ride up to $30 (thank you reader Denise!) on a $15 trip, so I decided maybe it was time I tried Lyft.

Lyft tampa

I pulled up the app, got a car that was only 5 minutes away and headed to the lobby to wait. My driver shows up and I pop over, pausing just long enough to clarify that with Lyft you do ride in the front seat, and jump in.

10 seconds later someone from the Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission was at the driver’s window showing her badge, asking if she was a Lyft driver and asking me if I had hired her. The officer had identified my driver at the airport and then followed her to my hotel to “catch her” breaking the law.

Both my driver and the officer were quick to assure me that I was not in any trouble, and quickly outlined my options. It was illegal for my driver to be operating and it would take her (the officer) about 15 minutes to process all the citations. That these were not criminal offenses, nothing would go on her record. I could wait with the driver, I was free to get a different ride, or she’d even call me a cab (I found that funny).

I’d wondered what happened when drivers were caught, so I decided to stick it out (even if it jeopardized my chance at the Harry Waugh dessert room).  My driver, an awesome single mother who was only on her 3rd day as a Lyft driver, and was doing it to support her kids, was incredibly nice and apologetic about the whole thing.

Eventually the officer came back and started handing out citations. $100 for not having the right license, $200 to Lyft for illegally hiring her, another $100 and $500 for two other violations. Up until then she’d been very nice — appreciating how cooperative my driver had been. Then for some reason she started intimidation tactics.

Tonight it was just citations, tomorrow she would be in her office filing the same charges as misdemeanors which meant my driver could be prosecuted on criminal charges if they followed up on it (none had so far). And she started referring to “all your little Lyft friends” and spreading the message that apparently Thursday (today) the Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission would have law enforcement status and if Lyft drivers kept running they’d start impounding cars and showing force.

And with that she left. I felt awful for my driver who had been polite and professional through it all, but clearly was a little shaken by that last information. I was also a little worried that the officer would pull her over again once we left because I’d chosen to stay in the car. (Fortunately she didn’t).

As luck had it, after dinner I got the same driver on the way back to the hotel and enjoyed a friendly chat. As a single female out late at night, I definitely felt safer riding with her than any of the random cab drivers I saw parked outside the restaurant. Its a shame this is how Tampa Bay has chosen to spend it’s time protecting its residents.

But if you’re interested in diversifying your Uber usage or want the chance at your own Lyft adventure, feel free to sign up using my code Keri1329.  We’ll both get a free ride (up to $25).

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discuss this post

  • I feel bad for the Lyft driver, but shouldn’t Lyft make sure that it’s obeying the law in areas in which it operates? Other companies have to comply with regulations and I don’t see why cool tech startups should be any different.

    • Torben

      yes would seem like the logical answer, however when you have something like a monopoly which is being actively protected from competition, however is not in the customers interest or even provides the services the customers want, you are often only left with civil disobedience. For lyft and uber, this is just overhead like parking tickets for UPS. Last I heard, they are both paying the fines for their drivers.

      Especially in tampa, getting a cab SUCKS A$$. 30 min lead times for a 20 min ride to downtown.

  • This post is horrible. So did u call lyft AGAIN after dinner even though u knew it was illegal!???!!

    • You understand there’s a difference between illegal & immoral, right? Do you ever drive over the speed limit or jaywalk? Ever place a bet in an office pool? Ever connect to an unsecured wireless network? Ever violate a copyright? Ever fail to promptly get a new driver’s license after moving to a new state?

    • Slavery was legal and it was illegal to hide black slaves. Everything Hitler did was legal.

      You get my point.

  • So I guess your driver continued to pickup more Lyft passengers after the warning? Or did you ask her to pick you up at the restaurant after dinner? Oh and how was the steak?

    • Keri Anderson

      Yes, she continued to operate afterwards, and Lyft covers the costs of all the fines. Same situation in all the other states where the Lyft/Uber business model hasn’t been approved yet.

      Didn’t have time to get steak, but loved the desserts. Next time I’m going for the full meal and bringing friends!

      • Torben

        great place isn’t it. make sure you take the kitchen and wine cellar tour.

        • Keri Anderson

          Didn’t have time for dinner or either of the tours (thanks PTC), but plan to go back again on my next trip!

  • ptahcha

    Harry Waugh is the dessert room, not steak. Still, a good choice.

  • Uber and Lyft are getting in trouble all over the place, and frankly, that’s nonsense. Cities should be using this as opportunities to deregulate their transportation sectors. Instead, they’re shoring up regulations that have the unintended (?) consequence of making it harder for Uber and Lyft to do business.

    I for one do not sleep more soundly knowing I’m protected from the threat of someone like Keri or Jeanne getting a cheaper ride from someone who might not have the requisite pieces of paper. This battle is happening in Birmingham right now. I’ve weighed in here:

    http://www.bizjournals.com/birmingham/news/2014/07/02/why-birmingham-should-give-uber-the-greenlight.html?page=all

    and here:

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/artcarden/2014/07/22/an-open-letter-to-birminghams-city-council-on-uber/

    and here:

    http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2014/07/quality_control.html

    • Dante

      “Instead, they’re shoring up regulations that have the unintended (?) consequence of making it harder for Uber and Lyft to do business.”

      That’s exactly the goal of cronyism and regulation: to eliminate competition. Nothing unintended about it at all.

  • The Institute for Justice is already suing the Hillsborough PTC (a state agency) over their minimum fare regulations for limos & sedans. See http://www.ij.org/tampafares

    As more and more people complain about the PTC being an archaic obstacle to transportation market innovation (including the mayor of Tampa and major Tampa travel executives), there seems to be growing momentum to abolish the agency…

  • Aaron K

    I believe it is our duty as Americans to use and support companies like Uber and Lyft as much as possible. The government taxi monopoly is a product that people really don’t like, but use as a necessary evil.

  • Karen A.

    I don’t get those government types: On one side they complain about unemployment figures, and on the other they leave no stone unturned in jamming up the gears of anyone actually finding new ways to employ people. It’s almost as if they don’t really care one way or another as long as they get their cut?

  • Denise L

    I feel bad for the driver but glad you got to your destination. It is a shame that some cities are giving Lyft and Uber such a hard time.

    Yep – that was me. I got a free $30 ride (thank you!)and so did you. I ended up paying only $22 from LGA to Manhattan and then used it all over Manhattan during my stay. Thanks so much for tuning me onto Uber.

  • Great post! The government didn’t try to save blockbuster when everyone realized Netflix was delivering the product much better. Atleast, the yuppie citizenry is finally awake after witnissing Uber/Lyft bullied by the government

  • AlohaDaveKennedy

    Thank you for keeping Florida green! Our municipalities appreciate the ticket revenue and will not have to set up quite as many speed traps now. If Lyft and Uber really want to operate in The Sunshine State they need to pay for the proper permits, with cash, in unmarked white envelopes, in the prearranged drop off spots.

  • If you’re not a taxi driver, do you even need to pull over for/talk to a Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission employee? Seems like there would be a lack of jurisdiction there.

  • Maritza

    I feel bad for the driver. But I also shame Lyft for offering to hire the people if it knows that it is illegal in their area? So who is responsible for the citations, the driver or Lyft? I would probably think the driver would be dealt all responsibility. Hopefully cities who outlaw this will see that people actually like the service and work with them. Sorry for the experience I am glad I read this. Now I will check in my area to see if it is allowed to avoid getting both people in trouble.

    • Keri Anderson

      Fortunately Lyft covers all the fines so the driver is out nothing but their time.

  • We’re having a lot of legal issues with Uber and Lyft in Memphis as well. It’s ridiculous – cabs in Memphis are insanely expensive, generally very unsafe drivers, and, especially late at night, more often than not super creepy. Plus, we’re having a major budget crisis with our police services, and they’ve now dedicated a special “task force” to stopping these drivers. I can’t wait for all the local silliness to stop and for us to get the opportunity to use these services.

  • DaninSTL

    I’m in the process of moving from STL to MCI area and I know in STL they are fighting. It seems that the cabbies are the ones fighting it. I don’t blame them. They have to put up with a ton of regulations which are dumb. If the city or local authority need revenue just tax lyft, uber, etc. and be done with it.

  • Why wouldn’t you just deny that you hired her? “A friend who picked me up for dinner”

    My guess is that the “incident” would have ended at that point and you’d have been doing the driver a favor by protecting her.

    I occasionally drive for Sidecar in SF and the folks at SFO are cracking down on ridesharing. The advice amongst the Sidecar online driver forum is to avoid airport dropoffs if possible. But if you want to do them, the advice to have your phone screen “locked” when entering the airport because then they can’t see any ridesharing app running and cannot prove what they think you’re doing — you really are just a friend dropping off a friend! Obviously the advice is to avoid airport pickups entirely b/c that’s way too easy for them to run a sting.

  • Dante

    Nothing like a little State cronyism to drive out competition and maintain their monopoly powers.

    Eliminate the State.

  • Brian

    I live in Dallas. There’s been a very shady relationship between the largest medallion holder (yellow) and the city. Yellow was not complying with the requirements regarding insurance for years and getting away with it because it had the regulator in its pocket. When Yellow induced the City to go after Uber, all of this came to light. Thank you Uber.

    To those who mention that it’s illegal, it’s not illegal for you as the customer to hire Uber. It may be illegal for Uber to pick you up. Protection of customers is not what these regulators are after, they’ve forgotten their role and are now in the business of protecting the monolpolies that they are supposed to be regulating. It’s shameful.

  • “Its a shame this is how Tampa Bay has chosen to spend it’s time protecting its residents.”

    Tampa Bay’s local government (or any other government for that matter) has zero interest in protecting it citizens. The entire reason for the bust was to protect the taxi cartel from competition and a loss of profits. The cab companies want lots of regulations and barriers to entry to keep competitors out so they can maintain their artificially high profits. The cops are simply acting as mafia enforcers for the cab companies in this instance.

  • Growing up in the USA we are taught by parents/school/media that police are our friends and here to protect us.

    As we see more than ever, the police are most interested in themselves, and provide an illusion of safety.

    They are enforcers #1 and no matter how immoral, stupid, wrong, unfair, common sense, or un common sensical their job is to enforce.

    There are also tons of corrupt cops and the “good cops” do nothing about it because if they say something they will get fired/reprimanded/off the gravy train. Can they even be called good cops then?

  • You know you can tell the Uber app not to apply your credits, right?

  • Here is the support article about saving your Uber credits. https://support.uber.com/hc/en-us/articles/201924307-Can-I-choose-to-save-my-Uber-credits-for-another-ride- With Lyft you have to apply them if you have them, but Uber lets you save them.
    If anyone wants to try out Lyft, my code is AIRLYFT7

  • I want to clarify some facts in your article
    Had the new driver reached out to the Luft community on FB, she would have found out that we Lyft drivers are NOT required to give ANY information to the PTC, they are only code enforcers and have no LEO status and will not ever. They have as much “arresting” powers as the code enforcer that tells you to clean up your yard or else…
    BTW The PTC officer who wrote the citations has been background checked and has an arrest record…lol
    Ride sharing is not illegal per statute as no statue actually discusses rude sharing as it is a new concept.
    The taxi companies are running scared and they are using outdated laws and twisting them to suit their intimidation!

  • I am a lyft driver in Tampa and that comment about law enforcement status is BULL! They are not police and have no rights to “arrest” someone. That PTC agents name is Sharon Stempowski and was a sheriff’s deputy until she lost her job she also has a DUI on her record and also used a racial slur when she was younger. Please don’t let this discourage your Lyft use as the PTC “officers” are just using intimidation tactics to scare people when they have no police powers.

    Use code ZAC6604662 for a free $25 ride gift certificate. Please try us out and you will see there is always a better option.

  • Dinty

    LOL, I just stayed at that same Hyatt.

    I was in nearby Orlando a few weeks prior and it seemed that there was no regulation of the cabs there, one time I called and some guy in an unmarked minivan with no meter showed up and told me he could only take cash. I told him I would be getting a cab that could take a card at least.

  • Samantha

    I got to read the driver side of this on out Lyft Tampa Bay fb page. I am a Pinellas driver and I try to stay out of Tampa because of the PTC :'(
    I just wish the PTC wuld stop trying to prevent innovation and GTF off our backs. We keep DUIs down which saves lives,no to mention, Lyft provides jobs ,we purchase more gas, get more maintenance, and may even buy cars more often which in turn goes back to the economy and on to of that we still pay taxes.Our passengers have 3X the insurance policy over them than if they were riding in a cab. they need to get over themselves.

  • I’m just not very keen on people belittling others. It’s tiny thing in this article, but “all your little lyft friends”. I would love to ask “How are all your little enforcer friends?”

    I don’t know if that would put me in more trouble, but I’m kind of tired of having no power, or say in situations at the side of the road.

  • Donnette

    I am the driver Keri is referring to in this blog. I appreciate her waiting it out that night. We both learned first hand the PTC is an over zealous bully. When it comes to ride-sharing, we, as Americans should have the say as to whom we trust our rides to be with.

    If you would like to try Lyft…code: DONNETTE3 will get you a free ride up to $25.00, this code can be used with the free rides you get for downloading the LYFT.COM app. Happy Lyfting!

  • Tom Dudley

    I was set up tonight. I picked up a passanger in NJ bought him into the city. When I dropped him off he went into a building and The TLC People pulled me over they told me that they spoke (They Didn’t) to my passenger and he said i was a lyft driver. They asked me a bunch of questions and then told me i could lose my car and license and be arrested and its illegal to drive for lyft in NYC. It was typical good cop bad cop and then they let me go. After I left I remembered the passanger asking me if i ever picked up any NY customers and bring them to NJ. To many coincidences. I do it very rarely for a few extra dollars. What is the crime (there isn’t any) its the same as a friend giving you money for gas and tolls and a few dollars in your pocket for a ride. Its safe because all our info is shared and no money passes between anyone in the car. You rate the customer and he rates you. You dont pick up randomly its all preset through an app. Its typical NY and big city nonsense to regulate so they make income somehow beside the taxes tht i have to claim at the end of the year.

 
 

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