WBEZ | uber http://www.wbez.org/tags/uber Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Illinois House moves to rein in ridesharing http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois-house-moves-rein-ridesharing-110011 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Rideshare-legislation.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Illinois lawmakers took a step Thursday toward imposing rules on popular ridesharing services that have come under particular scrutiny in the City of Chicago. Despite receiving thousands of e-mailed petitions overnight from supporters of Lyft and Sidecar urging them to vote against <a href="http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ilga.gov%2Flegislation%2Ffulltext.asp%3FDocName%3D09800HB4075ham003%26GA%3D98%26SessionId%3D85%26DocTypeId%3DHB%26LegID%3D77989%26DocNum%3D4075%26GAID%3D12%26Session%3D&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNHJkILW6HuQSYOmvH2W08D1X1kv7w">House Bill 4075</a>, House legislators voted overwhelmingly (<a href="http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Filga.gov%2Flegislation%2Fvotehistory%2F98%2Fhouse%2F09800HB4075_04102014_024000T.pdf&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNGoWEKnNfNCts1Fl2_xQZJgosffqw">80-26</a>) in favor of regulations.</p><p>Uber, Lyft and Sidecar started offering smartphone apps in the Chicago area in the last two years, aimed at helping regular people use their personal vehicles for hire. The House bill, backed by representatives of Chicago&rsquo;s taxi industry, originally took a broad, restrictive approach, requiring those drivers to comply with many of the same rules as taxi drivers on issues of licensing and safety checks. The bill that ultimately passed was touted by its sponsor, Michael Zalewski (D-23), as a &ldquo;compromise bill,&rdquo; combining input from both the taxi industry and Uber.</p><p>&ldquo;Nothing in this bill is going to shut down these apps,&rdquo; Zalewski said, minutes before the roll call. &ldquo;We want them to thrive, we want them to do well. However, it&rsquo;s our duty to protect our constituents.&rdquo;</p><p>State lawmakers have, in recent weeks, raised red flags over <a href="http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.wbez.org%2Fnews%2Fstate-legislators-probe-rideshare-insurance-109857&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNGo3KvYNiEAn8hJorLnRP8GtOztGg">insurance concerns</a> with ridesharing services, as well as the propriety of entrusting background checks and drug testing of drivers to the private companies. The bill that House members passed imposes different requirements based on how much time drivers spend behind the wheel for the services.</p><p>Those who average fewer than eighteen hours per week would largely remain under the oversight of the private companies. But drivers who average more than eighteen hours per week would be subjected to many of the same rules and oversight as taxi drivers in Illinois. The bill would require them to obtain public chauffeur licenses, commercial registration plates for their vehicles, and fulfill inspection and age requirements set by the city or local government in which they operate.</p><p>Zalewski told WBEZ that Uber&rsquo;s lobbyist in Springfield, attorney Michael Kasper, supported the idea of bifurcating drivers into different regulatory categories depending on how much time they work. &ldquo;I can only negotiate with who Uber tells me to negotiate with,&rdquo; he said, &ldquo;and their representatives were willing to negotiate on this point.&rdquo;</p><p>But almost immediately after the bill passed, Uber denied that it was consulted in the crafting of the bill. &ldquo;Uber has not signed off on a proposal that bifurcates drivers,&rdquo; said Andrew MacDonald, Regional General Manager of Uber Midwest. Lyft issued a similar statement: &ldquo;Bifurcating drivers into two groups was not a compromise and we did not support this model in conversations with the bill sponsors.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;That&rsquo;s an outright lie,&rdquo; said Pat Corrigan, a Principal at Yellow Group and representative of the Illinois Transportation Trade Association, which includes nearly all of Chicago&rsquo;s taxi companies. &ldquo;We talked to Uber representatives, including Michael Kasper, their lobbyist, over the weekend in an attempt to understand how we could satisfy their wishes.&rdquo; Kasper did not respond to an e-mail by posting time.</p><p>MacDonald argued that the bill will force drivers to choose whether they want to be full-time or part-time, and that it would make it difficult for the company to respond to fluctuations in demand.</p><p>&ldquo;Why are we putting in a threshold? Does it benefit consumers? Does it benefit drivers? No. It protects the taxi industry,&rdquo; he said. MacDonald said he did not know immediately what portion of the company&rsquo;s drivers in Chicago drive more than eighteen hours per week. He added that a more reasonable restriction would simply limit rideshare drivers to 12 hours per day, a rule that Chicago taxi drivers must follow.</p><p>Chicago officials, however, have been crafting similar changes to a city ordinance on ridesharing. According to Michael Negron, Chief of Policy for the Mayor&rsquo;s Office, a new proposal divides rideshare companies into two classes: those whose drivers average more than 20 hours a week, versus companies whose drivers average less. Companies with higher averages would have to ensure their drivers have public chauffeurs licenses and submit to background checks and drug tests done by the city.</p><p>Unlike the state legislation, the city will consider company-wide averages rather than individual driver averages. &ldquo;If we have to go and individually determine how much each driver is driving, that&rsquo;s a harder-to-enforce system, there&rsquo;s more opportunity for gaming, etc.,&rdquo; explained Negron.</p><p>The bill will go to the Illinois Senate after a two-week recess.&nbsp;</p><p><em><span id="docs-internal-guid-c1722b30-50d1-5e4e-753a-9f789cd52716">Odette Yousef is WBEZ&rsquo;s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her </span><a href="https://twitter.com/oyousef">@oyousef</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud">@WBEZoutloud</a>.</em></p></p> Fri, 11 Apr 2014 07:40:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois-house-moves-rein-ridesharing-110011 Shadowy lobbyists influence rideshare debate http://www.wbez.org/news/shadowy-lobbyists-influence-rideshare-debate-109770 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Rideshare lawsuit_0.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The fight over the future of ridesharing in Chicago is increasingly being waged through shadowy lobbyists. This has some aldermen concerned about how that could influence the current regulatory debate.</p><p>At a hearing at City Council&rsquo;s Joint Committee on Transportation and Finance on Monday, some noted that the lobbying activity on the issue appeared different from the usual at City Hall. They said they were disturbed by the apparent emergence of advocates for ride-sharing companies like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar, who have not identified their interests upfront.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m concerned with the amount of lobbyists on this that we won&rsquo;t hear from today,&rdquo; said Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd), after noting that he had been handed an unmarked packet of information on his way into the hearing, with no information about its source. &ldquo;I&rsquo;d like to see all the lobbyists come up and forward on who we&rsquo;re dealing with and what&rsquo;s happening in this controversy here.&rdquo;</p><p>Ridesharing services offer smartphone apps to connect people with cars to people who need rides. Drivers do not have public chauffeur licenses, and they use their personal vehicles. Lately, several cities in the country, including Chicago, have been considering whether, and how, to regulate these services to ensure public safety.</p><p>Earlier this month, city officials offered <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/city-moves-regulate-rideshare-companies-109639" target="_blank">competing proposals</a> on rules for ridesharing. Almost immediately, media outlets (including WBEZ) began receiving phone calls and emails about the issue from a public relations firm that did not immediately identify its ties to the ridesharing industry.</p><p>A Chicago-based communications firm called Resolute Consulting has offered to connect reporters with community-based organizations in neighborhoods such as Little Village, Belmont-Cragin and Pilsen, who support ridesharing services. It did not initially disclose that its client is Uber, one of the technology companies behind a ridesharing app.</p><p>The consulting firm similarly publicized a press conference led by Alderman Joe Moreno (1st) just minutes before Monday&rsquo;s committee hearing on ridesharing rules. Moreno was joined by drivers and passengers of ridesharing services to voice support of &ldquo;reasonable regulations&rdquo; for the technologies.</p><p>&ldquo;Today is, I think, the difference between the Flintstones and the Jetsons,&rdquo; said Moreno. &ldquo;And we&rsquo;re here today to support the Jetsons.&rdquo;</p><p>Moreno said regulating ridesharing services under taxi rules, as proposed in a resolution by Aldermen Anthony Beale (9th) and Ed Burke (14th), would stifle innovation in Chicago. Other supporters at the press conference said they feel safe using ridesharing services, and that driving for these services helps them supplement low incomes.</p><p>They denied that a company had lobbied them to be at the press conference, with Moreno adding that riders, drivers and the industry are organizing on their own around the issue. But reporters were handed unlabeled, white folders containing reports about Uber, copies of letters written to the city on behalf of Uber, and other information highlighting troubles within the city&rsquo;s taxi industry. Resolute Consulting&rsquo;s name is nowhere cited in the packet, though a listed contact&rsquo;s name and number are associated with the company.</p><p>Additionally, all the riders and drivers present at the press conference disclosed, upon being asked, that they were only affiliated with Uber, rather than other ridesharing companies. Afterward, a consultant for Resolute told WBEZ that Uber had put out a request to its members to organize on behalf of limiting city regulations. Alderman Moreno admitted that he had met with an Uber lobbyist, whose name, he said, he could not recall. But he maintained that his advocacy on the issue was motivated by concerns he had heard from constituents who use the service.</p><p>&ldquo;There are lobbyists on both sides of this issue,&rdquo; Moreno offered at the committee hearing, in response to Fioretti&rsquo;s suggestion that ridesharing companies have been surreptitious in their lobbying effort. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s not just lobbyists that are on the rideshare side,&rdquo; he added, &ldquo;There&rsquo;s lobbyists that we all know that are on the taxi side of this, as well.&rdquo;</p><p>Interests aligned with the taxi industry have also mounted their own public campaign. In recent weeks, public relations firm Edelman has reached out to the media on behalf of client Taxi Magic, which produces an alternative transportation app. Taxi Magic partners with nine metro area cab companies, including Yellow Cab and Checker. Yellow is among several plaintiffs who recently filed a <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/cab-livery-companies-sue-city-over-rideshare-companies-109655" target="_blank">federal lawsuit</a> against the City of Chicago, demanding that the city regulate ridesharing apps as it does their industry.</p><p>The coalition of companies behind the lawsuit have also hired former Daley administration lawyer, and City Hall insider, Mara Georges to represent their interests to aldermen in this debate. At Monday&rsquo;s committee hearing, Georges started off testimony by offering evidence to bolster Aldermen Burke and Beale&rsquo;s resolution to treat ridesharing companies the same as taxis.</p><p>In 2014, city data show the industry has four registered lobbyists at City Hall. Among ridesharing companies, Uber has three and Lyft has one. A single lobbyist represents taxi drivers&rsquo; interests.</p><p><em>Odette Yousef is WBEZ&rsquo;s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/oyousef">@oyousef</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud">@WBEZoutloud</a>.</em></p></p> Tue, 25 Feb 2014 17:04:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/shadowy-lobbyists-influence-rideshare-debate-109770 Cab, livery companies sue city over rideshare companies http://www.wbez.org/news/cab-livery-companies-sue-city-over-rideshare-companies-109655 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Rideshare lawsuit.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>A group of mostly taxi and livery companies have filed suit against the City of Chicago, claiming that the city has tolerated, and even promoted, &ldquo;unlawful transportation providers&rdquo; to undermine their industries. Their case focuses on technology companies Uber, Lyft and Sidecar, which offer smartphone apps that allow people who need rides to find people with cars, for a fare. The suit claims that the city has denied the plaintiffs equal protection under the law, by forcing them to abide by rules and regulations that have not been applied to the technology companies.</p><p>At the heart of their complaint is the assertion that the companies, which call their services &ldquo;ridesharing,&rdquo; are de facto cab companies.</p><p>&ldquo;This isn&rsquo;t ridesharing,&rdquo; said Michael Shakman, an attorney representing the plaintiffs. &ldquo;They sell services 24/7 to the general public, they charge by time and distance, and they&rsquo;re an on-demand service. They&rsquo;re exactly a taxi service, not a rideshare.&rdquo;</p><p>At a press conference Thursday, Shakman accused the city of allowing a taxi &ldquo;caste&rdquo; system to emerge, whereby Uber, Lyft and Sidecar are allowed to focus only on passengers who have credit cards, smartphones, and live in high-income neighborhoods.</p><p>&ldquo;They are not available at all to the disabled or to people who pay with cash,&rdquo; Shakman said. &ldquo;This taxi &lsquo;caste&rsquo; system excludes large portions of the population on racial, economic and disability grounds, and it thereby violates the Illinois Civil Rights Act.&rdquo;</p><p>Also joining the lawsuit is Brad Saul, President of Chicago Disability Transit, a non-profit that provides paratransit options for people with special needs. Saul said on the occasions he attempted to get a car from ridesharing companies, they did not have any that were able to accommodate his wheelchair.</p><p>&ldquo;As a platform, we don&rsquo;t force drivers to use it a certain way,&rdquo; said John Zimmer, co-founder of Lyft, &ldquo;but as a broad platform there&rsquo;s drivers who do support that.&rdquo; Zimmer said in many of the 20 markets where Lyft now operates, there are people who drive wheelchair-accessible vehicles.</p><p>But while Saul and other plaintiffs argue that the companies should have to serve people in all neighborhoods, and with disabilities, the lawsuit also dwells heavily on the economic injury they say they are suffering. Lyft, Sidecar, and Uber&rsquo;s ridesharing service, called uberX, typically are cheaper than taxis, although when demand is high, they use a surge-pricing model that can lead to steeper charges.</p><p>Additionally, there is a relatively low cost of entry for their drivers. Cabbies must have city-issued medallions, currently priced at roughly $350,000 each, as well as mandated insurance, worker&rsquo;s compensation, and vehicles that are no more than four years old. Taxi and livery drivers are also required to attend school and be licensed as public chauffeurs, neither of which are necessary for rideshare drivers.</p><p>Representatives from Lyft and Uber dispute the underlying characterization of their service as a taxi service &mdash; and argue that&rsquo;s why they shouldn&rsquo;t be regulated as cab and livery vehicles.</p><p>&ldquo;A taxi can hail someone from the street, and when you have something like a street hail, it creates different dynamics and different safety requirements,&rdquo; said Zimmer. &ldquo;You don&rsquo;t have choice over the company, you don&rsquo;t have information on the driver, you haven&rsquo;t agreed to a terms of service, and you have a lot less information. And with a service like Lyft, you&rsquo;re choosing to use Lyft, you see information about the driver, about the car, and there&rsquo;s many more differences.&rdquo;</p><p>The lawsuit comes a day after lines of disagreement surfaced at City Hall. Mayor Rahm Emanuel&rsquo;s office <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/city-moves-regulate-rideshare-companies-109639">introduced an ordinance to create regulations</a> for the industry, designating a new category of transportation called &ldquo;Transportation Network Providers.&rdquo; The proposal would allow the ridesharing services to continue many of their operations, but would require them to register annually with the city, maintain minimum standards of general commercial and commercial vehicle liability insurance, pay the city&rsquo;s Ground Transportation Tax, and have drivers&rsquo; cars inspected annually.</p><p>Plaintiffs in the lawsuit say the proposal falls short, and they don&rsquo;t like the idea of a separate set of rules.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s bad public policy to create a second taxi system designed for the elite who happen to be fortunate enough to live in neighborhoods where taxi drivers are willing to take them,&rdquo; said Shakman.</p><p>At the same City Council meeting, Aldermen Anthony Beale (9th) and Edward Burke (14th) proposed a <a href="https://chicago.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&amp;ID=2902650&amp;GUID=AE467792-6BF2-425E-85C7-6C05D0CFBD3C">resolution </a>calling for the Police Superintendent and Commissioner of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection to immediately apply the existing taxicab rules to the ridesharing services.</p><p>&ldquo;We need to make sure that the consumers are protected,&rdquo; said Beale, &ldquo;and so we need to take the steps on shutting them down and then work towards a solution to make sure they&rsquo;re regulated.&rdquo;</p><p>The resolution is not binding, but will go to a joint committee on Transportation and Finance, of which Beale and Burke are chairs, respectively. As such, they may ask enforcement officials to offer testimony as to why the city has not applied its rules on taxicabs and livery to the ridesharing services.</p><p>Representatives of Uber and Lyft say they expect there will be regulation of their service, and that they are in favor of measures to promote safety. But they say the push by cab and livery companies to have them adhere to the same rules that they do will stifle technological innovation.</p><p>&ldquo;Hundreds of thousands of Chicagoans rely on uberX precisely because it is a faster, safer, and cheaper way of getting around their city,&rdquo; wrote Andrew MacDonald, Midwest Regional Manager for Uber, in an e-mail. &ldquo;After years of neglecting Chicago drivers and passengers alike, the taxi industry has resorted to name-calling and frivolous lawsuits. While they spend time in court, we&#39;ll be working with Mayor Emmanuel (sic) to design a forward-looking regulatory regime that creates economic opportunity, prioritizes safety, and ensures access to the best, cheapest rides ever available in the city.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Odette Yousef is WBEZ&rsquo;s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/oyousef">@oyousef</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud">@WBEZoutloud</a>.</em></p></p> Thu, 06 Feb 2014 20:05:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/cab-livery-companies-sue-city-over-rideshare-companies-109655 City moves to regulate rideshare companies http://www.wbez.org/news/city-moves-regulate-rideshare-companies-109639 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Screen Shot 2014-02-05 at 10.02.40 AM.png" alt="" /><p><p>The days of Chicago&rsquo;s Wild West of ridesharing services may be numbered, if the city has its way. The Mayor&rsquo;s office introduced new rules at Wednesday&rsquo;s City Council meeting, aimed at bringing the technology companies into the regulatory fold. But the move is already angering some who say the city should use its existing regulations for taxicabs and livery vehicles, rather than create a new set of rules.</p><p>&ldquo;This is a new industry that&rsquo;s still in the early stages and we wanted to step in, create some requirements that provide for public safety and consumer protection, but do that without essentially regulating the industry out of existence,&rdquo; said Michael Negron, Chief of Policy to the Mayor.</p><p>The proposed ordinance creates a new category of commercial vehicle transportation, called &ldquo;Transportation Network Providers,&rdquo; meant for technology companies that connect people who need rides, to people who have cars. Currently, this would include companies like Lyft, Uber and Sidecar, which have operations in Chicago. Unlike taxi drivers, people offering rides with these services use their personal cars, which do not have to be registered with or inspected by the city. The drivers also do not have to undergo training or licensing as public chauffeurs.</p><p>&ldquo;Now that the industry&rsquo;s been up and running for a bit, we want to be able to step in and impose what we think are ultimately some common sense requirements,&rdquo; said Negron, &ldquo;that ensure that when people step into a rideshare vehicle they know that the driver has gotten a background check and the driver&rsquo;s been drug tested and that the vehicle has been inspected and that they&rsquo;re getting the fare disclosed to them.&rdquo;</p><p>The ordinance would require the companies to register with the city and pay an annual $25,000 licensing fee, as well as $25 per driver with their service. It would also subject the companies to the city&rsquo;s ground transportation tax &mdash; $3.50 per day, per vehicle, for each day that the vehicle is used in Chicago for ground transportation. Additionally, the vehicles would have to display signage or an emblem that identifies their ridesharing service, and would have to be inspected annually by the city.</p><p>But perhaps the most significant cost that the rules would require are general commercial liability insurance and commercial automobile liability insurance policies of $1 million per occurrence.</p><p>&ldquo;Uber&rsquo;s existing policy meets that requirement,&rdquo; said Andrew MacDonald, Regional Manager for Uber Midwest. &ldquo;The basic premise is our insurance policy, as designed with our carrier, does cover a driver on an Uber trip regardless of the personal insurance policy.&rdquo; The company, however, declined to share a copy of that policy with WBEZ.</p><p>Several drivers, some of whom asked not to be named because they still drive for&nbsp; UberX and Lyft, told WBEZ that they were offered little or no detailed information about the companies&rsquo; insurance policies when they went through their orientation sessions.</p><p>&ldquo;People asked about what to do if there were problems,&rdquo; one said, &ldquo;but the answer was always to call Lyft Support,&rdquo; a hotline that the service provides for its drivers. &ldquo;They verified my insurance,&rdquo; said another driver for UberX, &ldquo;but never explained anything about what would happen in the case of a very bad accident.&rdquo;</p><p>Lyft, too, claims to carry an insurance policy of $1 million per occurrence, but it is an &ldquo;excess policy&rdquo; that kicks in after the driver&rsquo;s personal insurance has been used. The proposed ordinance would no longer allow this.</p><p>&ldquo;For us, it&rsquo;s like we are completely on board with provisions that increase consumer safety,&rdquo; said MacDonald, referring to the idea of new regulations. &ldquo;But beyond safety issues, I think controls on pricing, overreach on information, limitations on where cars could operate &mdash; all of that stuff starts to be not about safety, but starts to be about protectionism, and doesn&rsquo;t benefit the consumer, and doesn&rsquo;t create jobs, so that&rsquo;s where I get really concerned,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>The ordinance proposes that drivers with the services may collect fares determined by distance or time, or that are predetermined, or that are suggested donations. It would no longer allow the companies to apply formulas that calculate fares as a combination of time and distance. It also does not address &ldquo;price-surging&rdquo; or &ldquo;prime time tipping&rdquo; &mdash; a practice where Uber and Lyft hikes their fares when demand is high.</p><p>&ldquo;This ordinance is simply enabling an illegal activity which is a cab-like activity to take place,&rdquo; said Pat Corrigan, owner of The Yellow Group LLC, which operates Yellow Cab in Chicago. &ldquo;So this is not something the cab industry can stand by and see.&rdquo;</p><p>Corrigan and others from Chicago&rsquo;s cab and livery industries say they are prepared to file a federal lawsuit against the City of Chicago to compel the city to regulate ridesharing services the same way as their industries.</p><p>&ldquo;The public transportation system, which is the taxi system as you know it, has all these rules and regulations,&rdquo; he continued, &ldquo;including it can&rsquo;t charge more than the meter. UberX, Sidecar and Lyft, can charge basically anything they want.&rdquo;</p><p>Corrigan noted that cab companies must offer worker&rsquo;s compensation, use vehicles that are less than four years old, accept forms of payment other than credit card, and service all neighborhoods of the city &mdash; requirements that are not part of the proposed rules for ridesharing companies.</p><p>The arrival of ridesharing companies has certainly complicated the city&rsquo;s position. Under Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the city has touted itself as technology-friendly, and appears to have dropped early objections to Uber&rsquo;s taxi operations in the city. But at the same time, Chicago brings in tens of millions of dollars each year in taxes and fees from taxis &mdash; an industry whose value rests largely on maintaining the value of the medallions.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s certainly not good for the medallion system,&rdquo; added Corrigan, &ldquo;because you have another system that&rsquo;s competing &mdash; a private system of transportation &mdash; for some of the people in the city that can afford it, competing against the public system.&rdquo;</p><p>Taxicab medallion owners and lenders have been nervously watching the growth of ridesharing in the city, worried that it may undermine the value of their investments. Medallions, which the city issues in limited number to license taxis, are valued at roughly $350,000 apiece.</p><p><em>Odette Yousef is WBEZ&rsquo;s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/oyousef">@oyousef</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud">@WBEZoutloud</a>.</em></p></p> Wed, 05 Feb 2014 09:55:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/city-moves-regulate-rideshare-companies-109639 Cabbies threaten to abandon Uber over changes http://www.wbez.org/news/cabbies-threaten-abandon-uber-over-changes-109625 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Uber changes.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Once a darling of tech-savvy cab riders and taxi drivers looking for supplemental income, technology company Uber now faces mounting anger from some of those same drivers. The popular taxi-hailing service announced to cabbies via e-mail last week that, effective immediately, it was amending their contracts to include a $10 weekly charge for the data plan of the iPhones that the company issues them. The phones are currently mandatory for drivers that sign up with the service.</p><p>&ldquo;Connecting our partners with hundreds of riders each week does come with a cost,&rdquo; the email states. &ldquo;Since we launched in 2012, Uber has paid $10/week for the cost of data plan for every Chicago TAXI partner on our system, but at this time, this subsidy must end in order to encourage responsible iPhone use and prevent waste.&rdquo;</p><p>The message notes that the $10 deduction from drivers&rsquo; statements will begin this week, and that this policy has already been in effect since October for drivers in the company&rsquo;s livery service, UberBLACK.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m going to return the phone,&rdquo; said Mohan Paudel, a Chicago cab driver who has used Uber for more than a year. Paudel and several other taxi drivers say that $10 per week is an unreasonably high charge in a business where the margins are already miniscule. Many are now thinking of dropping the service altogether, unhappy with the company&rsquo;s sudden, unilateral approach to changing the terms of their agreements.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m definitely considering stopping working with Uber,&rdquo; said Peter Enger, a longtime Chicago taxi driver and Secretary for the United Taxi Drivers Community Council, a grassroots organization that works on labor issues in the industry.</p><p>&ldquo;I know a lot of cab drivers have gotten kind of fed up with their corporate practices. They&rsquo;re now no longer open for business, you cannot just go and consult with them except by appointment,&rdquo; he added. Enger and others complain that the company is difficult to reach with questions, and that often staff are discourteous when they respond to questions.</p><p>Andrew MacDonald, Uber&#39;s Midwest Regional General Manager, did not respond to questions from WBEZ about the change in policies, and did not follow up on a request for an interview.</p><p>But in the e-mail to taxi drivers, the company argues that the new charge for the data plan is reasonable because the service has allowed drivers to take home greater pay. &ldquo;We understand that every cent counts when it comes to your hard earned dollars that need to be spent on your food, housing, education, and your families,&rdquo; it states. &ldquo;Did you know that you earn as much as 7.5% more per Uber request compared to other fares paid via credit card?&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;But we&rsquo;re not making more money because we have to spend more time for the Uber customers,&rdquo; countered Paudel, &ldquo;because we have to go there and wait for two minutes, maybe sometimes ten minutes, and get the fare, which is&mdash; we&rsquo;re wasting a lot of time on that, too.&rdquo;</p><p>Other drivers agree that they typically have to wait longer when they arrive at a pickup location for customers that summon them through the Uber app. They also say they often waste time getting to Uber calls, only to have them cancelled at or before arrival. They say that Uber promises to pay them $5 for cancelled fares, but they rarely see that payment. Paudel says the new $10 charge, on top of these inconveniences, will add up to less weekly revenue than if he simply dropped Uber altogether.</p><p>The Uber notification also stated that drivers will be charged the weekly amount for the data plan regardless of whether they turn on the Uber device to take any calls in a week. Paudel said that&rsquo;s not fair if he decided to take a week off. He suggested that Uber instead increase the percentage that it takes from taxi drivers&rsquo; fares, currently 2.5 percent of the metered amount.</p><p>Still, it&rsquo;s not clear that taxi drivers abandoning the service would do much harm to the company. Since launching its taxi service in April 2012, the company also introduced its UberX ridesharing service, which matches passengers with non-taxi drivers. Many in the taxi industry fear that ridesharing services such as UberX, and competitors Lyft and Sidecar, directly threaten their business.</p><p>Last week, Uber announced that it was slashing its UberX fares&mdash;already lower than taxi meter rates&mdash;by 15 percent. The move follows accusations that the company engaged in price gouging on New Years Eve and in recent days with particularly inclement weather. UberX employs a surge pricing model when demand for rides peaks.</p><p><em>Odette Yousef is WBEZ&rsquo;s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her <a href="http://twitter.com/oyousef" target="_blank">@oyousef</a> and <a href="http://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud" target="_blank">@WBEZoutloud</a>.</em></p></p> Mon, 03 Feb 2014 10:16:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/cabbies-threaten-abandon-uber-over-changes-109625 'Morning Shift' #76: My favorite year http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2012-12-28/morning-shift-76-my-favorite-year-104593 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/MorningshiftCopy_5.jpg" alt="" /><p><script src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-76-my-favorite-year.js?header=false&border=false"></script><noscript>[<a href="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-76-my-favorite-year" target="_blank">View the story "'Morning Shift' #76: My favorite year" on Storify</a>]</noscript></p> Fri, 28 Dec 2012 08:33:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2012-12-28/morning-shift-76-my-favorite-year-104593 'Morning Shift' #75: Clash of the titans http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2012-12-27/morning-shift-75-clash-titans-104584 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/MorningshiftCopy_5.jpg" alt="" /><p><script src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-75-clash-of-the-titans.js?header=false&border=false"></script><noscript>[<a href="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-75-clash-of-the-titans" target="_blank">View the story "'Morning Shift' #75: Clash of the titans" on Storify</a>]</noscript></p> Thu, 27 Dec 2012 12:05:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2012-12-27/morning-shift-75-clash-titans-104584 Uber car service app makes winners and losers http://www.wbez.org/news/uber-car-service-app-makes-winners-and-losers-104544 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F72728981" width="100%"></iframe></p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Uber%20pic.jpg" style="float: right; height: 201px; width: 300px;" title="(WBEZ/Odette Yousef)" />A new smartphone app that hooks people up with rides has angered some big players in Chicago&rsquo;s taxi and livery industries. Companies like Yellow Cab and Flash Cab have sued San-Francisco based Uber for its operation in Chicago. Uber&rsquo;s foes call it a &ldquo;rogue app&rdquo; that ignores city regulations. Uber representatives say their product makes the process of getting cabs and limos more efficient. Either way, some in Chicago believe the service has already changed the basic economics of the business.</div><p>The obvious place to start here was to take an Uber ride. I used the app on my phone to summon a livery car to get me from the intersection of Orleans and Superior streets. My phone showed the car approaching in real-time on a map, and just before pulling up, the driver, Derrick Zielinksi, called to make sure he could identify me.<br /><br />Zielinksi pulled up in a black SUV, typical style for a livery car. In Chicago, livery cars are public passenger vehicles for hire, much like cabs. The difference is livery cars have to prearrange their fares, and are not allowed to use meters, as cabs do.<br /><br />Zielinksi contracts with a livery service for most of his calls, but in his downtime he takes additional calls through Uber.</p><p>&quot;Today is slow, so I try to reach some customers, make some money,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Zielinski estimated he takes about twenty Uber calls each week.<br /><br />Because Zielinski owns his vehicle, he pockets the full fare on those rides. That&rsquo;s good extra income for him and other independent livery drivers who use Uber. Some in the taxi industry say that hasn&rsquo;t gone unnoticed by Chicago&rsquo;s cab drivers.<br /><br />In Chicago, cabs typically get more fares than livery cars because they can take street hails, but they also work under more burdensome city rules. Few cab drivers own their cars -- most of them lease. Cometas Dilanjian of City Service Taxi said Uber is blurring those distinctions between the industries by letting livery drivers pick up street hails electronically anytime.<br /><br />&ldquo;We&rsquo;ve seen some people transition toward the black cars,&rdquo; said Dilanjian, whose affiliation represents nearly 400 independent cab owners.</p><p>Dilanjian said he thinks Uber is drawing cab drivers into the livery business.<br /><br />If true, that hurts his clients, the cab owners who lease their vehicles out to taxi drivers. When there are lots of drivers leasing cabs, those owners charge high fees. When the cabbie pool shrinks, they have to lower their fees. Dilanjian says it doesn&rsquo;t have to shrink much to feel the effect.<br /><br />&ldquo;If that number is 100 or 200, then we definitely see some type of trend here,&rdquo; Dilanjian said. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s a lot of drivers leaving.&rdquo;<br />&nbsp;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/saturnism.jpg" style="float: left; height: 400px; width: 300px;" title="Taxi (Flickr/Saturnism)" />Between June and October, the city issued 137 new livery licenses, more than twice the number for the same period last year, and nearly three times what it was in 2010. But it&rsquo;s not clear that the numbers are changing because of Uber.</div><p><br />The city&rsquo;s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection attributes the increase to a recovery. According to department spokesman Jennifer Lipford, the total number of livery licenses in Chicago dropped nearly a quarter between 2008 and 2009 because of the economic downturn, and still hasn&rsquo;t recovered.<br /><br />But some taxi drivers like Shamim Chowdhury worry that jumping from cabs to livery could be risky. Chowdhury said the city could hold livery drivers liable for how Uber calculates fares. The company issues those drivers iPhones that track routes through GPS.<br /><br />&ldquo;That is kind of an illegal service, because on livery service you cannot charge a customer by the mileage,&rdquo; Chowdhury said.<br /><br />Chicago has issued a citation to Uber claiming that it illegally meters livery cars. Allen Penn, General Manager of Uber Chicago, said the company does calculate fares based on data captured from the phones, but said the method is different from metering.<br /><br />The issue may be resolved soon enough. Chicago is considering new livery regulations that would more clearly prohibit Uber&rsquo;s fare calculation method.<br />If adopted, that could mean a whole new shift in incentives for people in the industry.</p></p> Thu, 27 Dec 2012 05:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/uber-car-service-app-makes-winners-and-losers-104544