Capitol Alert: UC system reviewing employee use of Lyft, Airbnb

drothberg@sacbee.comJune 27, 2014 

A Lyft passenger steps into a car in San Francisco.

JEFF CHIU — Associated Press

As lawmakers and regulators work to create rules for an emerging sharing economy, the University of California system is grappling with its own set of safety and liability concerns when employees use popular services like Uber, Lyft and Airbnb.

It appeared earlier this week that the system had banned its staff from using the online-based services after a UCLA administrator emailed top campus officials a notice that the university was prohibiting such tools while traveling on business. The decision from the UC general counsel was prompted by "concerns that these services are not fully regulated and do not protect users to the same extent as a commercially regulated business," the email said.

After media reports and criticism, UC President Janet Napolitano's office clarified the policy. The services are allowed, the university told employees in a follow-up email on Thursday, but under review.

"We are actively seeking ways to overcome potential liability and safety concerns and would like to work proactively with companies such as (Lyft, Uber and Airbnb]) to get everyone to a point of complete comfort with the risks involved," the second email said.

The UC move comes at a time when state officials are considering new insurance requirements for ride-sharing services, including Uber and Lyft. Several cities, including San Francisco, have also taken steps to regulate Airbnb, an online marketplace for posting and finding rental housing.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a vocal supporter of ride-sharing and a UC regent, criticized the reported ban in a letter to Napolitano on Thursday. Newsom said he recognizes "legitimate regulatory questions" about the sharing economy, but warned that a ban could result in higher costs and would send an anti-innovation message.

"Sharing economy companies offer consumers more choices at often less cost than comparable services offered by traditional vendors," Newsom wrote. "This decision also sends an unfortunate message to UC students, faculty and countless Californians who are striving to create the next generation of innovative businesses and technologies."

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