NORFOLK- The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles is cracking down on companies that offer ride sharing services that shuttle customers from point to point like a taxi.
Two companies--Uber and Lyft--have recently expanded into Hampton Roads.
Both companies sell rides in a vehicle through an app you download on a smart phone. You use the app to order, track and pay for your car.
The Virginia DMV claims the businesses are taxi companies but both entities market themselves as technology companies. Records obtained from the DMV show both companies have been fined in recent weeks.
Lyft was fined $9,000 on April 28 after DMV officials said they confirmed it operated nine rides for customers in northern Virginia.
According to the letter explaining the fine, it is illegal for a company to sell rides without carrying a Virginia passenger carrier broker's license.
Neither Lyft nor Uber have applied for such a license.
Zuhairah Washington, the general manager for Uber's business in Virginia, said her company is a technology company and not a taxi company.
"The concept of ride sharing is something that hasn't yet been contemplated in many jurisdictions throughout the nation," she said. "So, for us, our main mission is really to try and educate other regulators."
A letter obtained from the DMV shows Uber was fined $26,000 in late March after officials confirmed it operated 26 rides.
State law allows for a company to be fined $1,000 per unauthorized ride.
A spokeswoman for Lyft said the current regulations surrounding taxis do not fit well into how companies like Lyft and Uber operate.
"The current regulations surrounding taxis and limos were created before something like Lyft was even imagined. Lyft’s peer-to-peer business model does not easily fit into the current framework, but we have made safety a top priority from the beginning by putting forth strict safety measures that go beyond what is required for existing transportation providers," the spokeswoman said.
"We have seen a very positive response from members of the Virginia Beach community who are excited about Lyft’s arrival as a fun, reliable and safe transportation option, and we look forward to working together with local officials to find a solution that puts the interests of the people of Virginia Beach first."
Virginia lawmakers have also taken steps to toughen laws against companies that offer rides outside of current regulations.
Last year the General Assembly passed a new law that imposes a 12 month ban on licensing if an operator is found to have violated the state's licensing requirements.
Frank Azzalina, the director of business development for Hampton Roads Transportation, Inc, is working with state and local agencies to try and stop companies like Uber and Lyft from operating without a license.
"When someone calls a taxi, they're going to know that driver has gone through a background check done by the police department," he said. "They're going to know that vehicle has been inspected by the police department."
Because of that, Azzalina said he wouldn't feel safe getting in a car operated by a ride sharing company.
"In my opinion you're putting your own life a risk. You don't know who's coming to get you, you don't know what kind of vehicle that is and, you know, buyer beware."