regulations

Taxi association ad targets Uber, Lyft for lax background checks

The Florida Taxicab Association announced in a Monday email that it had released its second ad attacking ride-sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft for their “lax driver background check procedures.”

“The release comes just hours after a bombshell news report by BuzzFeed that leaked internal documents from Uber show the company may have over 6,000 rape complaints, 5,827 sexual assault complaints and a policy that advises customer service reps handling non-consensual sexual contact cases to ‘determine media interest’ before taking more serious action,” the email states.

“The Florida Taxicab Association believes all vehicle for hire drivers, whether they be taxi, rideshare, or Transportation Network Company (TNC) drivers should be required to pass a Level II background check that includes fingerprinting and Uber drivers should be required to have adequate insurance 24/7.”

The email points readers to a webpage, whosdrivingyou.org, that features a repository of newspaper reports from around the country on ride-sharing assaults, kidnappings and murders. Many of the same headlines pop up in the video.

“It’s hard to imagine some of these stories could be true,” the ad narrator states as headlines scroll across the screen. “There’s no way all these stories are true.  Are they?”

The FTA email said its “Make Ridesharing Safer” ad will air in the Tallahassee and Orlando markets, which will put it up against Uber’s own ad, also announced Monday, pushing for a Senate vote on the House ridesharing bill.

Source: http://floridapolitics.com/archives/203940-taxicab-association-releases-new-ad-targeting-uber-lyft-lax-background-checks

Letting Uber Break the Law Legalizes the Underground Economy

Jerry Dias 

Posted: 02/17/2016 4:52 pm EST 

The real threat of Uber goes well beyond taxis and how we hail a cab.

It goes to basic respect for the laws of the land, the willingness or ability of governments to enforce those laws, and to the responsibility we all bear to pay our taxes to support the kind of society we want for ourselves and our families.

At its heart, the problem with Uber is not only that it breaks the law, but that it does so with the tacit approval of our elected leaders -- while those most directly hurt by Uber's intrusion are held to a higher standard.

Last week, Toronto narrowly escaped traffic chaos with cancellation of a strike timed to the NBA All-Star game. The strike was called off when Toronto cabbies chose to respect the public by postponing their protest. It's just too bad our governments refuse to show the same respect for the cabbies.

We now have a big multinational company coming in and deciding that the laws of the land don't apply to it, and governments scrambling to accommodate it rather than enforce their laws.

Take Toronto Mayor John Tory, who continues to act irresponsibly by saying that Uber is here to stay and that industry and government must adjust -- effectively encouraging the company to continue operating illegally while his council rewrites the laws to accommodate it.

Not only that, Tory warned that the full force of the law would be brought to bearagainst any drivers who participated in the planned protest against Uber.

Here we have the elected head of Canada's largest municipality taking his time to consult on ways to rewrite the regulations so that one company, operating in open violation of his city's own bylaws, can operate legally, while threatening legal action against those who work within the confines of the law.

And Tory is not alone. Across Canada, our elected leaders are rewriting laws to accommodate Uber, while largely refusing to act when it or its drivers break the law.

In no other industry would it be acceptable for a company to continue breaking the law while the government fiddles.

If taxi drivers stopped paying fees, going for safety and environmental inspections, and started charging riders more than their regulated rates, they'd be taken off the road immediately. The laws and regulations governing the taxi industry evolved over time to reflect to reflect real safety needs and to protect riders -- needs that still exist whether a cab is dispatched by an app on a phone.

Pricing is a good example. Cabbies are told how much they can charge as a protection for consumers against gouging when demand is high, or other situations. But Uber is permitted to use surge pricing whenever it sees fit and suddenly double or triple its prices -- or even more.

In place of regulations that evolved over time, we now have a big multinational company coming in and deciding that the laws of the land don't apply to it, and governments scrambling to accommodate it rather than enforce their laws.

No company should have that power. We have laws, and they must be enforced.

Cities across Canada are scrambling to come up with a patchwork of responses to Uber. That's not good enough. To truly take this on, we need all sides in the issue -- municipalities, the provinces, the federal government, cab companies and drivers -- to come together and jointly develop a process to ensure a level playing field for both taxis and Uber in this country.

Municipalities regulate taxis. The provinces set the rules that municipalities work under and give them the tools to enforce their bylaws.

Ottawa has a stake in this, as well. Uber and its drivers are part of the underground economy, denying governments the revenue they need to fund health care and education, and to build the roads that both cabbies and Uber drivers use.

This underground economy in Canada takes $42 billion a year out of Canadian pockets. Allowing Uber to break the law not only adds to the underground economy, it legalizes the underground economy -- and we can't tolerate that as Canadians.

Taxes go to pay for such things as health care, law enforcement and all the things that make Canada such a great place to live. When big companies don't pay their taxes, they put all that at risk.

Uber accused of missing driver's criminal record in alleged sexual assault

A lawsuit charging the ride-hailing company with negligence says a background check didn't go back far enough to find an assault conviction.

Tech Industry

January 21, 2016  6:07 PM PST

  • by Steven Musil

Uber background checks failed to detect the criminal record of a driver accused in the sexual assault of a female passenger last year, according to a lawsuit that charges the ride-hailing company with neglecting the safety of its female customers.

The lawsuit, which was originally filed in October by two unidentified plaintiffs, accuses Uber of conducting inadequate background checks on its drivers. Amendments to the suit filed Wednesday added that a driver accused of assaulting a female passenger in South Carolina last August had previously been arrested on suspicion of domestic abuse and was convicted of assault in connection with the arrest.

The lawsuit notes that the driver's conviction occurred in 2003 but that he did not apply to drive for Uber until 2015, some 12 years after his conviction. Uber's background check failed to catch the conviction because it only searches back seven years, according to the complaint.

Uber, which makes a smartphone app that connects people who want a ride with de facto cab drivers, has come under fire for dozens of sexual assaults allegedly carried out by its drivers worldwide. A handful of states, including California and Texas, havelaunched investigations into Uber, claiming it routinely fails to adequately screen drivers and has hired drivers with criminal histories.

"Uber continues to play fast and loose with laws and regulations that are set in place to ensure safety," Jeanne M. Christiansen, attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a statement. "It's precisely this corporate strategy that has directly resulted in our clients and many other women being put squarely in danger from individuals whose backgrounds we know were not fully vetted."

Uber responded by saying it was focused on the safety of its passengers.

"Safety is very important to us, and this driver was immediately and permanently barred from the platform," an Uber spokesman told CNET. "We continue to work with all parties as the process unfolds."

Uber has previously said it puts all potential US drivers through commercial background checks, running candidates' names through seven years of county and federal courthouse records, a multi-state criminal database, national sex offender registry, Social Security trace and motor vehicle records. Uber said it rejects anyone with a history of violent crimes, sexual offenses, gun-related violations or resisting arrest.

The lawsuit amended Wednesday involves two alleged cases of sexual assault in two different cities by two different drivers.

Jane Doe 1's alleged assault took place in Boston at around 2:30 a.m. local time on February 8, 2015, after she and her friends had been at a party, the complaint says. The Uber driver dropped off Jane Doe 1's friends first, drove her along an off-route detour and then groped her and forcibly kissed her, according to the complaint, which adds that she managed to unlock the car door and escape.

The complaint says Jane Doe 2 was at a bar with friends in Charleston, South Carolina, on August 9, 2015, when the group was picked up by an Uber driver. After dropping off her friends, the driver drove Doe 2 to a remote parking lot and raped her, according to the complaint. Doe 2 then escaped and got help, the document says.

In addition to seeking unspecified damages, the suit is requesting a jury trial and a permanent injunction against Uber to overhaul its safety measures. Plaintiffs are also asking the court to order Uber to boost its safety standards by adding several new measures. These new measures include 24-hour customer support hotlines in all cities in which it operates, requiring all drivers to install GPS tracking systems on their cars that would set off an alarm if deactivated, disabling child-lock features on passenger doors and conducting fingerprint-based background checks and in-person interviews with drivers.

CNET's Dara Kerr contributed to this report.

Uber and Lyft's Big new lie: Their excuse for avoiding regulation is finally falling apart

Did Lyft just admit it's a taxi company after all? Ridesharing companies pretend to be tech firms. They're not.

STEVEN HILL

Recently Lyft and General Motors made a grand announcement, with all the hoopla meant to convey that this announcement is a really big deal: ta-daaaa, a joint partnership in which Lyft will develop self-driving cars with GM. GM is going to invest $500 million in Lyft, and GM president Daniel Ammann will join the board of Lyft. Never mind that self-driving cars (beyond test cars) will not appear on the streets anytime soon – and possibly never, due to the severe regulatory and insurance hurdles involved in letting a 3,000-pound machine steer itself with no human at the controls. Nevertheless, that big headline dominated the news cycle, which is so titillated by anything Uber or Donald Trump.

Yet the media missed the really big news. It was tucked into the Lyft-GM announcement as a little nugget that no one paid attention to. As reported in the Times:

“G.M. will also work with Lyft to set up a series of short-term car rental hubs across the United States, places where people who do not own cars can pick up a vehicle and drive for Lyft to earn money.”

Stop the presses; say what? Lyft will rent cars to its drivers? As in, instead of a driver bringing their car to Lyft for rideshare profiteering, Lyft will own the cars and provide them to drivers?

Apparently so. Lyft president John Zimmer told CNBC “We have thousands and thousands of sign-ups from individuals whose cars don’t qualify, and so we can now market to those individuals who already applied but didn’t have the right car. This is a really great income opportunity, whether or not you have a car.

OK…but…how…is that…any different from…how a taxi company operates? In most taxi companies, a driver pays a “gate” to a taxi company to rent its taxi for the day or evening. The driver keeps the net of his fares after paying the rental gate, which is usually around $100 per shift. The new Lyft-GM business model sure sounds like a taxi company to me.

In case the import of this still isn’t clear, I’ll spell it out: one of the big claims of Lyft and its other ridesharing competitors, like Uber and Sidecar, is that the reason they should not have to follow the considerable regulations that govern taxi companies is because Lyft/Uber are not in fact taxi companies. According to their view of the world, they are a technology company. They only connect a driver with a passenger as an intermediary; they are a mere software broker of a deal between two separate parties, and so they shouldn’t be regulated like a taxi company.

Look, they have said repeatedly, we don’t even own any cars…so how can we be a taxi company? In fact, Uber changed its original name, which was UberCab when it was founded by Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp in 2009, to Uber Technologies to provide that regulatory cover.

Regulators in the United States have mostly swallowed this ridesharing whopper, hook, line and sinker. They have treated these companies by a different set of rules than taxi companies. As one obvious example, in most cities the number of taxis roaming the streets is limited by a medallion system. The rationale for limiting the number of livery cars is to keep congestion manageable and the wages of drivers high enough to make some kind of living. But Lyft and Uber have refused to accept any limits on their number of drivers (and hence, notice how the streets in so many cities are now increasingly congested – just a coincidence?).

In addition, Lyft and Uber – ahem, the technology companies – have refused to pay livery taxes and other fees that taxi companies must pay to local governments, which are an important source of municipal revenue. In New York City, for example, taxis pay a fee that helps support mass public transit; Lyft and Uber refuse to pay any of that.