California issues regulations on ridesharing

The California Public Utilities Commission has voted unanimously to allow ridesharing services to operate in the Golden State as 'Transportation Network Companies.' Drivers will now have to pass a criminal background check and take safety classes, among other requirements, while their cars will have to pass 19-point inspections.

Reed Saxon/AP/File
An extended time exposure photo shows stoplights and traffic flowing along Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles.

If you really want to go green, why not get rid of your car?

That's the logic behind ridesharing and carsharing services.

In theory, they provide all of the convenience of a car, without the need to own one. These services are pitched as an alternative form of transportation for urban areas.

But while carsharing services like Zipcar have been accepted and often welcomed by most municipal governments, newer ridesharing services have presented a few legal hurdles. 

California now thinks it's figured out how to regulate ridesharing apps, Mashable reports.

Ridesharing and carsharing are both part of the same trend, but they don't work the same way.

Carsharing is essentially a more flexible form of car rental: Outfits like Zipcar allow members to rent cars for short periods of time, and without much advance notice. Unlike Hertz or Enterprise, drivers also don't have to go to a rental office to pick up their cars.

Ridesharing, on the other hand, doesn't involve driving at all.

Zimride allows groups of people to set up carpools, while Lyft connects individual people needing rides with individual drivers (think of it as a gypsy cab for the digital age).

Another service, Uber, connects riders with taxis and car services.

Consequently, while regulators have been able to treat carsharing services like scaled-down car rental companies, ridesharing has been more challenging.

Insurance and safety have been two major issues. After all, most kids are told not to accept rides from strangers--so can adults make it safe?

The California Public Utilities Commission thinks it has found a way.

The Commission voted unanimously to allow ridesharing services to operate in the Golden State as "Transportation Network Companies."

Drivers will now have to pass a criminal background check and take safety classes, among other requirements, while their cars will have to pass 19-point inspections.

How practical this turns out to be--whether all drivers will comply--remains to be tested as the new rules roll out.

Three ridesharing companies (Lyft, Sidecar, and Uber) had previously been allowed to operate in Los Angeles.

Long-term, the proliferation of vehicle sharing could lessen urban residents' need to rely on their own cars.

It might be easier, for example, for driver to keep limited-range electric cars like the Fiat 500e as their only vehicles if they have a ridesharing service as a backup.

Carsharing services could also allow people to use public transit exclusively, and rent a car for longer trips.

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