TRENTON - Ridesharing companies that enlist drivers to use their personal vehicles to transport passengers would have to get a state permit and meet safety requirements under legislation advanced Thursday by an Assembly panel.
The Transportation Committee approved the bill, which also calls for companies like Uber and Lyft to expand their insurance coverage to include the period when drivers use their smartphone apps to find fares.
Drivers would have to get a special authorization from the Motor Vehicle Commission, similar to other commercial driver's license holders. The bill also calls for driver background checks and vehicle inspections.
Nicole Benincasa, a policy associate for Uber based in New York City, said the legislation would threaten the ridesharing model and amounts to a departure from "reasonable regulations."
She criticized a part of the legislation that calls for Uber to provide $250,000 in insurance liability coverage for drivers from the time they open the app to look for riders until they close the app after the fare is dropped off. She said the requirement overstates the risk involved. The company must also provide $1.5 million in coverage during the ride, which Uber does not object to.
Chelsea Wilson, a Lyft spokeswoman, said in an e-mail that parts of the bill "don't work" with their model, but that the company is looking forward to working with lawmakers on the issue.
Insurance Council of New Jersey vice president Christopher Stark supported the bill moving out of committee and said it was a "great start."
He added that the need for a legislative solution resulted from a coverage dispute that arose after the death of a girl in California on New Year's Eve.
Ridesharing companies are new to the state, with Uber beginning operations in 2013.
Lawmakers say public safety concerns spurred the proposed legislation.
"This legislation is about establishing a sense of accountability so that both passengers and drivers stay safe on the roads," sponsor Troy Singleton (D., Burlington) said in a statement.
It will now go before the full Assembly, though a voting date has not been scheduled.