WORTHINGTON — In recent weeks, a few Worthington residents have begun offering rides through the ridesharing app Lyft.
Although some people feel that ridesharing is an important amenity for the community, others say that allowing Lyft is unfair to the city taxi service. Worthington City Administrator Steve Robinson explained that the city is part of a joint powers transit agreement that allows it to contract with Worthington Taxi service. Funding for the agreement comes through the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
"Without subsidies, there would be no taxi service," Robinson said.
Because of the contractual relationship Worthington Taxi has with the city, it has what's called right of first refusal, meaning that if someone wants to offer services that Worthington Taxi doesn't offer, Worthington Taxi can instead decide to offer those services rather than letting the other entity establish business.
Additional services — or at least hours — is what Lyft driver Yoli Salas hopes to offer to the community.
Worthington Taxi only operates until 10 p.m. Monday through Friday and 4 p.m. on weekends, Salas noted. In her view, there's a greater need for rides after those hours, especially among millennials, bar-goers and the night crowd.
"I would never want to go in competition with the taxi service," Salas said. That's why she only makes herself available on Lyft after Worthington Taxi hours.
Her background in law enforcement and fire rescue motivates Salas to help make the public safer, and she believes that driving for Lyft is one way to do that.
"I think it's a good option to have," she said.
Several people she knows will text her from a house party or a bar late at night and ask her to turn on her Lyft availability and come pick them up, she added. Salas would rather people ask her for a ride than get behind the wheel while intoxicated.
Robinson said that he believes that Lyft (as a company, not each individual driver) is supposed to secure a permit to operate within the city. To his knowledge, that has not happened.
"We have never had that request, and we have never denied it," he said. Although the contract with Worthington Taxi does have an exclusionary provision, he added, "we would have to look at the entire picture" before deciding to approve or deny a permit to operate.
One concern Robinson pointed out is a ridesharing service's potential to take business away from Worthington Taxi.
"That's the reality of the economy of a town the size of Worthington," he said.
Salas is aware of that, too, which is why she doesn't operate at the same time as Worthington Taxi.
Robinson also noted that because MnDOT regulates the taxi service, then vehicle and driver conditions are monitored.
Lyft also has requirements, Salas said. In order to become a Lyft driver, her car had to be a newer than 2016 model and she had to provide proof of insurance, among other criteria.
"It hasn't been an issue," Salas noted of her service through Lyft.