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Uber, lyft and other taxis

Does Uber deserve credit for Cohen’s comeuppance?

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If Michael Cohen’s guilty plea to and cooperation with federal investigators eventually leads to the impeachment of President Donald Trump, ride hailing apps like Uber and Lyft should get some credit. They created conditions that eventually drove Cohen to plead guilty to criminal charges related to his New York City taxi medallion holdings.

A decade ago, as Cohen was riding high off the income he earned from leasing medallions he owned. But in 2014, as the medallions’ value deteriorated due to the rise of ride-hailing apps, Cohen turned to fraud to secure $20 million in loans from banks by using his medallions as collateral. Now, Cohen has become one of just four people in recent history to be ordered by the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission to divest from medallions.

His guilty plea on Aug. 21 also paved the way for more moves by federal prosecutors to get closer to the president – including an immunity deal with Allen Weisselberg, the longtime chief financial officer of the Trump Organization – in the ongoing probe into Cohen.

The rise of the ride-hailing apps decreased the value of Cohen’s most important source of income: the medallions that he owned or co-owned, which numbered as many as 200 when he ran for New York City Council in 2003. During the 2016 president campaign, he took out a loan to make a $130,000 payment to the porn star Stormy Daniels, which at one time “was once equivalent to about 13 percent of the value of one of Cohen’s medallions. Now, it’s roughly 70 percent,” The Real Deal reported earlier this year.

Taxi medallions are not a particularly effective vehicle for financial fraud, but the collapse of their value caused widespread financial difficulties across the taxi industry, according to David Yassky, a former chairman of the TLC. “I have no reason to think that a taxi owner is more likely to do that than a restaurant owner or whatever,” he said in a telephone interview.

The market for taxi medallions followed a trajectory similar to the housing market before the 2008 financial crisis. A “handful of lenders came to believe that taxi medallions were a very solid piece of collateral and made loans at values that were probably unrealistic,” Yassky said. The loans that Cohen took out during the high times of the medallion market left him financially vulnerable when it crashed years later – just as Cohen was finding himself in need of some money.

It all began in 2010 when Cohen executed a $6.4 million promissory note with a bank by using his taxi medallions as collateral. By 2013, he had obtained a $14 million line of credit that ballooned his medallion debt to more than $20 million. Uber by then was two years into its expansion into New York City, which sparked the deterioration of the value of the medallions that put the squeeze on Cohen’s finances. Nonetheless, Cohen took out a mortgage on a Park Avenue condominium with a third bank that same year. The only problem was that he did not disclose the $14 million line of credit he had already taken out, prosecutors would later note. In November 2014, he refinanced his debt with the first bank by getting a loan from the second bank and a credit union, a move that would later come back to haunt him.

Source: https://www.cityandstateny.com/articles/policy/transportation/uber-michael-cohen-comeuppance.html

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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.

Source: http://fortune.com/2018/09/16/uber-lyft-drivers-chicago-protest/

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Uber, lyft and other taxis

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

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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.

Source: https://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/Kings-Plaza-Brooklyn-Car-Fires-493470611.html

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Council moves ahead on bills to help taxis

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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.

Source: https://www.crainsnewyork.com/transportation/council-moves-ahead-bills-help-taxis

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