On June 27, 2016, California Governor Jerry Brown, Senator Jerry Hill, Senator Mark Leno, and Assemblymember Mike Gatto announced a blockbuster agreement to transfer oversight of ride-sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft from the California Public Utilities Commission to the California State Transportation Agency, which includes the Department of Motor Vehicles. Although rumors had been circulating regarding changes to PUC jurisdiction, the move was a surprising one given the pioneering role the California PUC has played in creating a legal framework for regulating TNCs which has served as the model for jurisdictions across the US.
The reforms appear to have been spurred by the public criticism of the PUC following the release of emails between PUC and PG&E in the aftermath of the San Bruno pipeline explosion in 2010 and the San Onofre nuclear plant closing. The agreement has not yet been translated into a bill and numerous questions remain regarding how such a move would be effected. There are currently several related bills in the California Legislature addressing some of these issues: SB-215 (Leno-Hueso) places further limits on ex parte communications; SB-512 (Hill) addresses transparency including the number of CPUC sessions per year and financial compensation for public utility customer intervenors; SB-1017 (Hill) expands the public availability of documents regarding health, safety, and emergencies; and ACA-11 (Gatto) provides that the functions of the PUC can be reallocated to other state agencies by the Legislature. According to the Governor’s press release, these bills are intended to make the CPUC more transparent by reforming ex parte contact rules, more accountable by authorizing any California agency to participate in CPUC meetings, and more focused by reallocating the CPUC’s responsibilities.
As part of the proposed reallocation, the California State Transportation Agency would take over passenger stage corporations, transportation network companies such as Uber and Lyft, household goods carriers, for-hire vessel carriers, commercial air operators, private passenger carriers, and interstate carriers. The details as to how the reallocation of responsibilities would be effected are not yet available as the bills in question do not address it. As a result, the impact on TNCs is uncertain and is likely to remain so until these details are hashed out in the legislature.