If you were a taxi operator, you’d be incensed at the premise of California-based ride-sharing services such as Lyft, Sidecar and Uber. Instead of just calling a taxi, which is what they’re supposed to do, travelers have been taking advantage of these cell-dispatched services, which let average folks like you and me use their cars to give rides to people who need them.

Taxi companies call this kind of ride service “an existential threat,” because the operators won’t be subject to the same sort of tough rules that governs them. But in fact California’s Public Utilities Commission, in a 5-0 vote, made them officially legal but did impose some rules. The services will have to put their drivers through background checks, police for alcohol and drugs, and train their drivers. They’ll also have to post $1 million insurance policies, which is what personal car sharing services do. There are 28 regulations in all, and all the services will have to be state registered.

All three of these services are cheaper than a standard taxi, with Lyft and Sidecar soliciting “donations” and Uber charging taxi-type rates, but not requiring tipping. They operate outside of California, too, and Seattle, for one, is still debating whether it’s legal.

In fact Lyft, Sidecar and Uber are just the logical next step from the personalized form of car sharing—basically private car rental, with a high-tech database and web page serving as the middleman. Ride sharing is like that, but with the car’s owner acting as the taxi driver.

California is definitely in the forefront of all these services, which have exploded in just the few short years since car sharing operations like Zipcar took off.

If I have a qualm about ride sharing, it’s on the liability side. The big insurance policies and  background checks go a long way toward quieting my fears, but there’s still no guarantee you won’t get picked up by Ted Bundy. Come to think of it, there’s no guarantee that your taxi driver isn’t Ted Bundy.

Related on MNN: 7 carsharing and carpooling iPhone apps

Jim Motavalli ( @jmotavalli ) writes about cars, technology and the environmental world to anyone curious enough to ask.

Taxicabs incensed over California legalizing ride sharing
California legalizes ride sharing.