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Uber, Lyft up and running, defy Clark County

Ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft began operating in Southern Nevada Tuesday, defying Clark County officials who say they can’t conduct business until they have county business licenses.

Uber launched its Southern Nevada operation shortly after 2 p.m. and Lyft started up at around 3.

Uber officials said Monday they have about 1,000 contracted drivers screened with vehicles inspected and hundreds more in the final approval pipeline while a Lyft spokeswoman said the company has 1,000 drivers in Southern Nevada.

As independent contractors, drivers also are expected to have state business licenses and Uber emailed information about that to prospective drivers over the weekend. Uber officials say it is the responsibility of the driver to have that state license in place and the company doesn’t check to make sure a driver has it.

Uber began operations in Northern Nevada on Tuesday as well, but Lyft is only in Southern Nevada.

The two companies issued statements about the launch Tuesday afternoon.

“Yesterday, we were officially permitted to operate by the state of Nevada by the Nevada Transportation Authority and now we are live,” said Eva Behrend, a spokeswoman for Uber. “We are excited to be a part of the Nevada community and to offer another option for people from Henderson to North Las Vegas to Reno to connect with a safe, reliable, convenient ride at the touch of a button.”

“We’ve had our eye on Las Vegas for a long time and we’re so excited to finally be a part of the city,” said Chelsea Wilson, public policy communications manager for Lyft. “There’s no shortage of incredible things to see in Vegas, like famous pop divas, title fights, the Neon Museum … the list goes on. And now, Lyft is ready to make sure you can get to every last one, easily and affordably. From Summerlin to Henderson, East Las Vegas to the Strip, we’re offering everyone a convenient and affordable way to get around. And this is only the beginning — we look forward to bringing a ton of fun and memorable experiences to Vegas in the months ahead.”

Call for collaboration

State Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Henderson, applauded the launch of the two companies and called on the county to collaborate on establishing a workable business license solution.

“It’s time to begin letting hard-working Nevadans start to earn a living by driving with TNCs (transportation network companies),” Roberson said in a statement issued late Tuesday.

“The TNCs have expressed their willingness to work with all of our cities and counties on business licenses, but there are obviously some unanswered legal and logistical questions about how that should work. In the meantime, these drivers should not be made to wait to get on the road and earn a living — they have waited long enough,” he said.

“Getting them on the road is good for them, and it’s good for Nevada. Every trip TNCs take will create critical revenue for the highway fund and for the new medical school at UNLV.

“I call on Clark County and other local jurisdictions to let the TNCs operate and to collaborate with TNCs on creating a workable business license structure.”

The start-ups began after an unsuccessful attempt by the two companies and the Clark County Commission to resolve a dispute over whether the companies could operate without a business license the county is developing.

The state’s Legislative Counsel Bureau issued a legal interpretation on Friday saying local government entities could not impose special business licenses specific to transportation network companies, but they could collect fees for general business licenses.

Questions go unaswered

Discussions became heated when commissioners were introducing an ordinance to regulate the ride-hailing companies locally.

The inquiry from commissioners for the ride-hailing companies was simple enough: Do they believe they need a county business license to operate in the county or is their state license enough?

But representatives from both companies said they were unable to answer that question.

Commissioner Larry Brown directly asked the company representatives if they were willing to wait until after Oct. 20 to operate, saying “I need personally some assurances from both of you.”

Josh Griffin, a representative for Uber, and Kelly Kay, vice president of compliance for Lyft, weren’t able to deliver them.

With the lack of answers, Brown said, “It’s just not fair. The worst thing you could do is come into our community and set this confrontational approach right out the gate.”

Brown pressed further, asking if the companies feel they have the right to begin operation.

“As of this morning, I don’t know,” Griffin replied.

“Do you think that’s fair, honestly?” Brown said. “The fact that you can’t even answer these questions is frustrating.”

After the meeting, commissioners expressed disappointment in the lack of answers.

Claim of ‘double-talk’

Brown said he was surprised they were unable to answer some basic questions and noted most of his constituents support the ride-hailing companies.

“But they need to play by our rules,” Brown said, adding that the rules are set up to protect customers, not be a barrier.

“This is not the right way to start doing business in this community,” added Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak said, adding that he heard a “lot of double-talk.”

Waiting for the county ordinance licensing transportation network companies would be problematic for Uber and Lyft because the state license it received Monday from the Nevada Transportation Authority mandates that they begin operations within 30 days, or by Oct. 15. The county ordinance isn’t expected to be approved until Oct. 20, with final passage of the ordinance in November.

County officials did not respond to inquiries about what they would do if an Uber or Lyft driver were caught offering a ride within the county.

Mary-Anne Miller, the county’s attorney, said the county could not go “much faster than it already has” because it had to see what the state is doing.

“By law, we cannot do anything more restrictive than the state,” Miller said.

Find @RickVelotta on Twitter. Contact reporter Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Contact Ben Botkin at bbotkin@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2904. Find him on Twitter: @BenBotkin1

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