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Uber and the False Hopes of the Sharing Economy

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Not long ago arrived word of a new start-up, Wonderschool, which as its website explains, is a “network of boutique, in-home early childhood programs” — the Airbnb or Rover of preschool. Already established in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York, with significant capital behind it, the venture aims to rescue talented teachers from the stingy hands of institutional employers, turning them instead into “edupreneurs.”

How many will be lured? The passage of extensive legislation by New York’s City Council on Wednesday, curtailing the previously unchecked powers of Uber and other ride-hailing services, suggests the extent to which the false promises of the sharing economy are becoming better understood and, how much more aggressively they still could be counteracted.

From the beginning, Uber appealed to drivers on the premise that partnering with the company would allow them to do what they really wanted to do, which was not ferrying 24-year-olds to beer halls or actuaries to the airport as a means of full-time employment.

A series of Uber ads that ran in conjunction with the Grammy Awards this year showed some of the artists nominated, in cars, with drivers who were singers and producers themselves. Other ads introduced us to drivers who were nursing students or aspiring businessmen — Uber could fund your creative and professional ambitions, or make it easier to go to Disney World or buy new appliances.
The reality though appears quite different. A study released last month from two economists, James A. Parrott and Michael Reich, indicated that in New York City, Uber’s largest domestic market, nearly two thirds of drivers who worked for ride-hailing services did so full time. They held no other jobs; approximately 80 percent bought cars for the purpose of making a living by driving them. Many were in debt from those acquisitions and making very little money.

Nine out of 10 drivers are immigrants and approximately 54 percent are responsible for providing more than half of their family incomes. Beyond that, the study found, the number of drivers for ride-hailing services grew 10 times faster than the rate of blue-collar employment, or employment in the city overall.
The gig, in effect, was the lifeline and the lifeline was insufficient. One of the bills passed by the Council is intended to ease the financial hardship of drivers for Uber, Lyft and other similar companies in a saturated market, where jobs for uneducated workers are hardly in abundance. A minimum wage of $17.22, after expenses, has been set, which would increase driver earnings by about 22.5 percent on average.

But this figure must be considered within the context of the broader economics of a city where just to live affordably (which is to say, spending a third of your income on rent) in any of its five cheapest neighborhoods — all of them in the Bronx, all of them with median listed rents of $1,500 to $1,600 a month — you need to earn between $54,000 and $58,000 a year. The minimum wage does not get you there.

What is astonishing about the current legislation is how tepid so much of it actually is, and how ferociously it was fought by the companies involved. The cornerstone of the Council’s work caps, for just one year, the number of cars that can operate in the city. Currently there are approximately 100,000 — an increase of 37,000 just since 2015. During the year the cap is effective, the city plans to study the economic and environmental impact further and it is allowing the various services to add wheelchair-accessible cars and vans in the meantime.
The cap does absolutely nothing to address the crisis at the heart of professional driving in the city — the devolution into poverty of so many conventional yellow-cab drivers whose livelihoods have been devastated by ride-sharing. Some who owned medallions and were paying them off saw an enormous devaluation of those medallions. Six professional drivers killed themselves during the past several months, most recently, Abdul Saleh, a Yemeni immigrant who was found dead in a rented room in a Brooklyn apartment in June. He had been struggling for months to make payments on a leased cab.

At some point preceding the passage of the legislation there had been discussion, led primarily by Lyft, of a hardship fund to be set up by the various ride-hailing companies to alleviate some of the suffering conventional drivers have experienced, but that was only going to go forward if the city agreed not to impose a cap. When I asked a spokesman for Lyft if that idea might be resurrected, he said that the industry could not make such a promise with little sense of how regulation would affect its revenues. And yet regulation does not change the current status quo much at all.

If rates for ride-hailing apps were to increase, as Uber has suggested as a possibility, then perhaps this would give yellow cab drivers a bit of a competitive edge.

The city and state could also, theoretically, create their own fund to aid drivers — just as they could create more good jobs by adding more bus lines to areas underserved by public transportation, which would reduce a reliance on Uber. In Queens Village, to cite one example, only 9 percent of houses and apartments are within a half mile of a subway station. But an arcane state law about gifts, which prevents the doling out of money to particular sets of people, makes such a fund very hard to establish.

We are a long way from figuring out how to disrupt disruption.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/09/nyregion/uber-nyc-vote-drivers-ride-sharing.html

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Cars significantly more dangerous than guns in New York, new data shows

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New York is the safest big city in the country — unless you’re near a car..

Motor vehicles are significantly deadlier than guns in New York, new NYPD data shows.

Crashes involving cars, vans, trucks and buses killed 111 people on city streets during the first six months of 2019, public data shows.

During the same period, 61 people died in shootings, the NYPD says. Those shootings account for 45% of the city’s 135 homicides during 2019′s first half. Police say the city is on a path to have the lowest number of murders since 1950, and that gun deaths over the full year will be 25% down from 2018.

Motor vehicles are also deadlier than guns in car-loving major metros like Los Angeles, Houston and San Diego, data shows.
But in New York, where only one in four residents commute via motor vehicle, data shows that the city has done a much better job of curbing gun violence in recent years than traffic deaths.

For decades, bullets killed more New Yorkers than traffic crashes. Just a decadea go — in 2009 — bullets killed 367 New Yorkers, and motor vehicle crashes killed 324.

But that dynamic flipped in 2012 when the city saw a 22% drop in gun-related homicides. That year, 241 people were killed by bullets, and 278 in traffic crashes.
Since then, 2015 was the only year in which more New Yorkers killed each other with guns than motor vehicles — but it was close: 236 people were killed by guns, and 234 by traffic crashes.

Mayor de Blasio’s administration has presided over historic lows for both homicides and traffic deaths.
Still, as fatal crashes have risen this year — including 15 cyclist deaths to date — street safety advocates have pressured de Blasio to treat car-related deaths as a public health crisis.

Some argue that the mayor’s Vision Zero program, which aims to curb traffic fatalities, is falling flat.

“The safety improvements we’ve seen during the first five years of Vision Zero, while impressive, were achieved without disrupting the car-dominant status quo on our streets,” said Joe Cutrufo, spokesman for street safety group Transportation Alternatives.

“Decades of bad decisions have left us with a stubborn and unfortunate car culture that yields four traffic deaths every single week,” Cutrufo said. “Enough is enough. We can have safer streets if we want them, but it’s going to require bold leadership and the resolve to put the automobile in its proper place.”

De Blasio has repeatedly defended his record on improving traffic safety and curbing crime, but many critics have chided him for kowtowing to community groups who do not want to give up parking spots for street redesigns.

“One death – no matter the cause – is always one too many,” said de Blasio spokeswoman Freddi Goldstein. “As the mayor has said repeatedly, we won’t stop until we have reached Vision Zero on our streets.”

Source: https://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/ny-car-deaths-gun-homicides-20190714-qeszmkdpanbkvclf7fsfpv7bmi-story.html

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ConEd Faces Heat After Times Square Goes Dark

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It lasted all of five hours — and hit just the spot on New York’s power system to take out the lights in Times Square, force the evacuation of Madison Square Garden in the middle of a Jennifer Lopez concert and bring parts of the city’s subway system to a screeching halt.

The Saturday evening blackout on Consolidated Edison Inc.’s grid — extending from about Fifth Avenue to the Hudson River and from the 40s to 72nd Street — was so widespread that it took out much of Midtown, Hell’s Kitchen, Rockefeller Center and the lower reaches of Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Now ConEd, already under fire because of other mechanical breakdowns in recent years, is facing renewed calls to overhaul its network.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio cut short a presidential campaign trip to Iowa and Governor Andrew Cuomo went on television to demand answers from “Mr. ConEd” himself.

Cuomo, expressing frustration over what he described as repeated failures on ConEd’s system, said in an interview with ABC News that he was sending his “top power team” to investigate the incident. He noted that Saturday’s outage took hours to resolve when the utility had said it would take one to two. It struck at 6.47 p.m. Saturday, lasted until about midnight and affected almost 73,000 customers.

“If they don’t give me an answer quickly, I’m going to go to ConEd headquarters,” he said. “If I don’t get a firm answer forthwith, I’ll go speak to Mr. ConEd myself.”
De Blasio, meanwhile, called on city agencies to “get to the bottom” of the incident.

“We’re going to look at this very carefully, not only depend on Con Edison, but we’re going to make sure there’s a very careful review of what happened,” the mayor said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday from Chicago. “We don’t ever want to see it happen again.”

The power failure struck on the anniversary of the historic 1977 blackout that led to widespread looting and other crimes across New York City. And it peeled back disparities between old technology and new: halted subways meant a $2.75 fare ballooned to a $57 Uber primed to surge pricing.

Source: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-07-14/after-times-square-goes-dark-new-york-s-coned-faces-more-heat

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Judge approves new Weinstein legal team led by #MeToo critic

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A judge gave Harvey Weinstein the green light Thursday to shake up his defense team yet again — this time a mere two months before the disgraced movie mogul whose case inspired the #MeToo movement is due to stand trial in New York on sexual assault charges.

One lawyer had already bolted amid public backlash. Now Jose Baez, known for representing high-profile clients such as Casey Anthony, is out after saying he and Weinstein just can’t get along. Donna Rotunno, a #MeToo critic specializing in defending men accused of sexual misconduct, and Damon Cheronis are in.

The judge, James Burke, approved the swap after questioning Weinstein to ensure it was what he wanted and getting the new lawyers to promise they won’t seek to delay the trial from its scheduled Sept. 9 start.

Baez signaled last month that he wanted to leave the case, telling Burke in a letter that Weinstein had tarnished their relationship by communicating only through other lawyers and by failing to abide by a fee agreement.

Weinstein engaged in behavior that made representing him “unreasonably difficult to carry out effectively” and insisted on taking actions “with which I have fundamental disagreements,” Baez wrote.

Bounding out of the courtroom Thursday after getting sprung from the case, Baez said: “I feel like I won the lottery. Just kidding.”

Weinstein responded through his spokesman, saying: “With a lawyer like Donna Rotunno, I feel like I’m the one who won the lottery.”

Rotunno has espoused a philosophy that the #MeToo movement, spurred by revelations about Weinstein’s alleged behavior, is overblown and that women are “responsible for the choices they make.”

“I chose to represent Harvey Weinstein because I think these are the types of cases that lawyers that do what I do live for,” Rotunno said outside the courthouse after the hearing.

“It gives us an opportunity to have a forum to speak what we believe, and I believe that the facts and evidence in this case are actually very favorable to Mr. Weinstein.”

Gloria Allred, who represents one of the accusers in the criminal case, offered a different perspective, saying: “I agree that women are responsible for their own choices, but when will Mr. Weinstein be held responsible for his?”

Rotunno and Cheronis practice in Chicago.

They join three New York City lawyers: Arthur Aidala, whose clients have included rapper 50 Cent and former Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz; Diana Fabi Samson; and Barry Kamins, who as a judge oversaw New York City’s criminal courts.

The lawyers and prosecutors said they’ll work out a schedule for exchanging witness lists and for prosecutors to turn over evidence, such as emails from Weinstein’s movie studio that pertain to potential witnesses.

Baez is the latest defection from what was once seen as a modern version of O.J. Simpson’s “dream team” of attorneys. Harvard law professor Ronald Sullivan left in May amid backlash about his involvement.

Sullivan’s involvement in the case drew protests from some students and faculty members on the Cambridge, Massachusetts, campus. Buildings were defaced with graffiti that included the slogans “Down w Sullivan!”, “Your Silence is Violence” and “Whose Side Are You On?”

Thursday’s hearing on the lawyer switch played out in open court, but two conversations among the judge and lawyers happened in secrecy.

After approving Baez’s request to withdraw from the case, Burke called him to the bench for a one-on-one chat that lasted about five minutes with no court reporter to transcribe the conversation.

Later, he called all the lawyers to the bench for a 10-minute discussion of how they’ll proceed when it comes time for jury selection. Again, there was no court reporter to make a record of the conversation.

Aidala appeared perturbed by what he called the judge’s “extended private conversation” with Baez. He asked whether he could also approach the bench, but Burke waved him off.

Weinstein, 67, is charged with raping a woman in 2013 and performing a forcible sex act on a different woman in 2006. He denies the allegations, has pleaded not guilty and is free on $1 million bail.

Baez and Sullivan started representing Weinstein in January, when the former movie producer overhauled his legal team for the first time. That happened after his original lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, lost a hard-fought bid to get the case thrown out.

Pamela Robillard Mackey, who represented Kobe Bryant in his 2003 Colorado sexual assault case, and ex-Manhattan prosecutor Duncan Levin were also hired in January and have since left.

Source: http://www.indexjournal.com/lifestyles/entertainment/ny-judge-oks-weinstein-defense-team-recasting/article_c49d2eaa-06b5-5c45-b0f0-eade3431df52.html

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