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Letters: Uber Debate Is Actually About Consumer Protections



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Require fingerprints for drivers

I’d like to respond to your recent editorial headlined, “Leave The Uber-Taxi Debate To The Consumer” (July 24). The Associated Press article I cite is here.

Here are my 197 words:

The debate, reduced to its most basic elements, is about basic consumer protections, not about saving a few bucks. You make a casual mention of “isolated incidents of driver abuse” as if it’s just part of doing business with Uber or Lyft. You know, a few broken eggs.

With the repeal of fingerprinting in 2016 for TNCs ( transportation network companies) and taxis, Honolulu consumers have lost the most basic assurance that their driver is who he or she claims to be. My daughter is too young, but I would counsel her never to ride Uber or Lyft.

Would you so casually dismiss a serial rapist as an “isolated incident of driver abuse” if it happened here? Consider these statements from a recent AP article:

Vilchez Lazo “fraudulently represented himself” when he applied for a job and and passed the company’s background check, Margolis (Lyft) said.

Searches can take as little as 24 hours, and none would flag a worker in the country illegally using bogus documents.

The commission, however, resisted calls to require the fingerprinting of drivers. Even when faced with clear evidence that name-only checks are woefully inadequate, authorities still resist fingerprinting. Why?

Fingerprint background checks must be reinstated.

Thanks for reading.

— Tom Nauwelaerts, Honolulu

An ad for Uber

The Civil Beat editorial “Leave the Uber-Taxi Debate to the Consumer” represents extremely poor journalism. It misrepresented facts and was riddled with inaccuracies. It also attacked our company, Charley’s Taxi, unfairly.

For example, pricing: Let’s take for example UberX that might offer rides from Waikiki to HNL for about $25. UberX are small sedans, compact vehicles. Charley’s Taxi offers a flat rate to the airport for $29 from Waikiki. All of our current fleet are full-sized — larger cars, minivans or larger SUVs. Civil Beat’s comparison is like comparing Apples and Oranges or UberX to UberXL or UberSelect. Sure you can chose the cheaper alternative, for a smaller UberX, but if you chose Charley’s, you get a driver who has had a fingerprint background check and a car that has commercial insurance. Something that neither Uber and Lyft offer in any class of their vehicles.

Also, Uber and Lyft … in every one of their classes of cars, unlike Charley’s Taxi, might surge astronomically. Charley’s Taxi will only revert their $29 flat fare back to meter during extra busy holidays such as New Year’s Eve and when there is extra-heavy traffic as noted on our website or on our coupons.

The argument CB puts forth regarding elderly and handicapped is completely off the mark! We aren’t talking about services that serve the elderly and handicapped. We are saying that Uber and Lyft aren’t able to service the elderly and handicapped and the poor in many cases like taxis that take cash and have full service phone-dispatch centers, because many elderly don’t use apps on cell phone or computers and many poor cannot pay with credit cards.

Your “editorial,” which ironically failed to mention Lyft at all, seemed to be a paid advertisement for Uber.

— Darci Evans, Charley’s Taxi

Seniors and disabled are ill served

For a news source that prides itself on insightful reporting, your editorial, “Leave The Uber-Taxi Discussion To The Consumer,” was a disappointment.

You state, “Another argument against Bills 43 and 44 is that senior citizens and the disabled can’t use ride-hailing services.” You brush that argument aside, writing: Uber provides uberAssist, which “offers additional assistance to members of the senior and physically disabled community.”

Yes, that’s word-for-word what it says on the Uber website.

Do you know how many wheelchair-accessible vehicles Uber has in Honolulu? No, you don’t. Neither does the city. Uber probably doesn’t even know.

Research by the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest made dozens of requests for WAV on Lyft and Uber in New York City last May.

Lyft located a WAV for only three of 65 attempts, rendering the service non-functional for wheelchair users. Uber located a WAV in only 27 of 49 attempts. Not a single WAV could be located at NYC’s two major airports.

New York City’s Taxi Commission mandated that within a year, five percent of all trips dispatched by Uber and Lyft be in wheelchair-accessible vehicles.

Uber is suing to block the implementation of the WAV mandate.

— Eric Epling, Honolulu


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Uber, lyft and other taxis

Uber and Lyft Drivers in Chicago Will Hold Rally to Protest Abuse and Low Wages




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Uber and Lyft drivers in Chicago will rally at O’Hare airport Monday in protest of abuses they have faced from riders as well as the low wages they receive from their work, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

Organizers with the group Chicago Rideshare Advocates are working to organize the thousands of drivers across the city to demand better pay and working conditions. Last week the group rallied outside City Hall with a banner that read, “Uber/Lyft Stop Abusing Workers/Cities.”

Mattia Nanfria, a 41-year-old ride-share driver who also organizes with Chicago Rideshare Advocates said she has been propositioned and attacked by riders. She said that after reporting having problems with some riders, Uber didn’t seem to do much to address the issue. “For all I know, they did nothing, which is a little disturbing,” she said.
To make matters worse, Nanfria said there are some weeks when she makes less than the city’s minimum $12 hourly wage. “The weeks where I’m clearing $10 to $12 an hour, that’s what I lose sleep over,” Nanfria told the Sun-Times.

Chicago city officials have considered following New York’s lead and putting a cap on the number of ride-share vehicles in the city, which has quadrupled to nearly 66,000 drivers in the last three years, according to the Chicago Tribune. The Chicago Rideshare Associates are on board with capping the number of drivers, along with increasing wages and drivers’ safety.

“Nobody wants to ban Uber and Lyft. Nobody wants that,” Eli Martin, a co-organizer of Chicago Rideshare Advocates told the Sun-Times. “We all like this, we just have to make it work better.”
Both Uber and Lyft oppose the proposal for a license cap.

The surge in ride-sharing services in Chicago has hurt business for cab and taxi drivers, while also worsening working conditions for Uber and Lyft drivers.

Earlier this year, Uber’s CEO Dara Khosrowshahi suggested that New York City officials should impose a fee on ride-sharing apps to help taxi medallion owners facing financial burdens from the increase of ride-sharing services. But the New York Taxi Workers Alliance called the proposal “a slap in the face to struggling drivers and an attempt to get out of being regulated.”

Chicago officials have proposed raising the average wage for drivers, which is currently less than the minimum wage at $11.53 an hour after expenses.

The group will hold its rally at the O’Hare Transportation Network Providers’ parking lot from 7-10 p.m. on Monday.


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Uber, lyft and other taxis

More Than 100 Cars Damaged in NYC Mall Parking Garage Inferno; Suspect Arrested: NYPD




mall parking garage

Police have arrested a man in connection to a seven-alarm inferno that tore through a multi-level parking garage at Brooklyn’s Kings Plaza Shopping Center Monday, enveloping the entire area in thick smoke, engulfing more than 100 vehicles and leaving nearly two dozen people hurt.

Police say they’ve arrested Avon Stephens, 23, on an arson charge in the fire at a parking garage at the mall on Avenue U and Flatbush Avenue. A motive wasn’t clear, and details on an attorney for Stephens weren’t immediately available.
The fire call came in shortly before 9 a.m. Monday, and the blaze quickly escalated from a two-alarm to a four-alarm fire, then became a six-alarm inferno within an hour. By 11:15 a.m., it was a seven-alarm blaze. It was under control by noon.

Twenty-one people, 18 of them firefighters, suffered non-life-threatening injuries, mostly related to smoke inhalation and heat exhaustion. Four of the victims were taken to hospitals. Fire officials warned the patient total would likely rise.
A law enforcement source said 137 cars were damaged, and 70 of them were burned to their shells, many of them Mercedes.
The garage holds about 4,000 spaces and fire officials said 120 cars are normally stored there by a car dealership. There were some explosions from car tires burning; officials said there is no risk of collapse.

Citizen app video showed smoke spewing from the garage as bystanders crowded near emergency vehicles, seeking shelter from the shroud of smoke.
More than a half-dozen MTA bus lines were running with delays in the area because of the FDNY activity. The department said more than 200 of its members responded.

A mall spokesperson said to avoid the area until further notice. The plaza was closed, though officials said the fire did not extend to any stores.
Kings Plaza has more than 120 stores, including Macy’s, Best Buy, Sears, H&M, Michael Kors, Express and Foot Locker.

In 2013, it became the subject of a controversial order that temporarily banned people younger than 18 without the presence of an adult after hundreds of teens attacked patrons and vandalized the shopping center, forcing it to shut down.
No one was ultimately charged in that fray, nor was anyone hurt.


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Uber, lyft and other taxis

Council moves ahead on bills to help taxis




road yellow taxi

After years of failing to address the fallout from an upended taxi industry, the City Council is trying to make up for lost time.

Just a month after leading the way to an unprecedented one-year cap on Uber and Lyft vehicles, the council’s for-hire vehicle committee was back in action today with a hearing on nine more bills.

Overall they’re aimed at addressing the economic plight of roughly 6,000 individual taxi-medallion owners and the wider pool of taxi and ride-hail drivers, who now number more than 185,000, up from 30,000 six years ago. The push for more legislation has been fueled by six suicides in the past year by drivers who grew desperate because of their circumstances—and by a sense that the ride-hail industry has lost the ability it once had to block legislation it didn’t like.

The bills include an effort to establish a task force to study medallion values and recommend policies to increase prices and one to ask the Taxi and Limousine Commission to set up a program to provide drivers with health care and other insurance benefits.
If the bills pass, however, it remains unclear when they would bring relief, what form that relief would take and how it would be paid for. The health benefits proposal calls for adding a surcharge to all taxi and for-hire vehicle fares—which would be in addition to a congestion-pricing surcharge ($2.50 for cabs, $2.75 for app-based services) that will go into effect Jan. 1.

Taxi and Limousine Commission chair Meera Joshi, who testified in support of the bills, said it would be better to find a funding mechanism that didn’t antagonize passengers. The FHV committee chair, Ruben Diaz Sr., also spoke up against the surcharge.

The TLC, which will be developing the rules and carrying out the legislation, also will need to find out exactly what the health insurance needs are for the vast majority of drivers.

“That will be a painstaking study,” Joshi said.

Other bills are aimed at fighting predatory practices by car-leasing operators. They would require the TLC to set a cap on costs, ensure consumer-protection practices and prevent leasing operators from making automatic deductions from drivers’ earnings.

Some medallion owners who blame the TLC for allowing Uber and Lyft to flourish declared that the raft of new bills wouldn’t do much good if Joshi remained in charge of developing and enforcing the regulations.

“In our view, there can be no remedy if the remedy and the implementation are left up to the current TLC regime, which is [composed] of leftovers from the Bloomberg administration,” said Carolyn Protz, a medallion owner, who read from a letter from the Taxi Medallion Owner Driver Association.

Joshi was, in fact, appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, and much of the regulatory structure that determined Uber and Lyft’s place in the TLC universe was already in place when she started in May 2014.
In an email, Protz pointed out that Joshi was the TLC’s deputy counsel during the Bloomberg administration and that other senior TLC officials are also Bloomberg alumni.


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