"Any passenger vehicle used or maintained for the transportation of persons for hire, compensation, or profit is a commercial vehicle," reads a recent advisory issued by the California DMV with regard to Uber, Lyft, and other ride-hailing services. "Even occasional use of a vehicle in this manner requires the vehicle to be registered commercially." Both the DMV and the CHP have said violations could be ticketed and prosecuted, but the question of enforcement remains an open one.
The advisory presents a particular conundrum for Uber drivers, whom Buzzfeed alleges stand to be suspended by Uber for registering their cars as commercial vehicles. “We are showing your vehicle registration is actually a commercial vehicle registration,” begins the text of an email obtained by Buzzfeed from an Uber representative to one suspended driver. “We will need you to contact the DMV to have them update your vehicle registration to personal/automobile registration. We are unable to accept commercial registration on an uberX account.”
When the SF Business Times asked Uber about these allegations, a spokesperson responded that, "It is not our policy to deactivate a driver for registering his/her vehicle as commercial."
Lyft, too, issued a statement on the subject. "Requiring Lyft drivers, including those who drive just a few hours a week, to get commercial plates would essentially treat peer-to-peer transportation the same as a taxi, undermining the thoughtful work done by the CPUC to craft new rules for ridesharing in California."
Enforcement of the DMV's clarification would indeed pose existential problems for Lyft, Uber, and others. But until further clarification on the clarification, it looks as if independent contractors — drivers — will be bearing the potential burden.