After Madison police conducted a sting operation citing a Lyft and an Uber driver for violating city ordinances last weekend, a state representative responded by threatening budget cuts.
Rep. Tyler August, R-Lake Geneva, said in a statement Monday that he was concerned about the city’s use of resources to conduct these operations instead of handling violent crimes and characterized the conflict as an attack on free enterprise.
“If the City of Madison has enough resources available to waste on undercover enforcement of taxi ordinances, perhaps it is time to revisit the millions of dollars given to the city in shared revenue as the next budget process begins,” August said.
Madison Police Department spokesperson Joel DeSpain said few police resources were actually used in the operation, and Lyft and Uber drivers were warned about the threat of police action if they continued to operate.
The operation was a limited enforcement action using just a couple of police officers, DeSpain said.
“We’ve told drivers that until they be compliant with city ordinances, they risk enforcement from Madison police. They have been operating for weeks on end and we did respond,” he said. “We’ve gotten a number of complaints related to the operation of Lyft and Uber drivers.”
Lyft driver Jim Cozzi was one of those cited under this operation. Two days after his citation, he said Lyft had repaid his $1,630 fine.
Cozzi said because he did not accept any payment from the undercover police officer for the ride to the airport, he was not in violation of any city ordinances.
“I wanted to fight it because I told the rider that it was a free ride to the airport. Lyft thought it would be easier to just pay the fine, but if I went to court I would go under oath,” Cozzi said. “My friend says you took the bullet for us, and I’m willing to do it again. I hope they stop me again. I’m glad they stopped me because I know my rights.”
Mayor Paul Soglin said the city requires licensing for anyone who operates a taxi service, including receiving gifts or having a third party provide payment. The laws are in place for the protection public welfare, health and safety, he said.
In response to August’s threat of budget cuts, Soglin said he expects elected officials to stand behind the city’s ordinances.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know they are violating the law, I would hope that every responsible elected official from the state Legislature to Madison City Council members insist that Lyft and Uber obey the laws,” Soglin said. “There is nothing preventing them from coming in and requesting a license.”
Soglin said he met with a representative from Lyft Tuesday and discussed modifications to city ordinances.
New technology makes the ordinance obsolete, Soglin said, and modifications to the way meters are inspected will have to be made.
“I am focused on one thing: getting them to comply with the law and ensuring the safety of Madisonians,” he said. “We are more than happy to work with them and look forward to them submitting applications.”