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Uber Bill Up for a Vote in Florida House of Representatives – Questions Remain Unanswered

Tallahassee, FL:  House Bill 1389 is expected to be voted on as a stand-alone bill or an amendment to a larger bill by the Florida House of Representatives.  Dubbed the “Uber Bill”, House Bill 1389 seeks to grant Uber Technologies a special state exemption from local vehicle-for-hire rules and regulations – laws that have been crafted, debated, implemented and enforced on the local level by cities and counties throughout Florida for decades.

The Uber Bill was assigned only two committee hearings in the House.  It passed by “one vote margins” in each committee despite bi-partisan opposition.  There have been numerous questions posed to the bill sponsor and Uber directly that have yet to be answered.  In both committee meetings in the House, time expired on public input.

Uber is seeking to end local governments’ ability to regulate luxury vehicles, specifically rules requiring a “minimum fare” for luxury trips.  For decades a minimum fare has been required from luxury operators as the only regulation they must follow, while taxi operators are required to adhere to literally dozens of regulations including an obligation to serve 365 24/7, requirement to charge regulated fares, serve all areas of the community, prohibited from refusing a fare, no ability to “price surge” for peak demand, required to take all forms of payment (not just credit cards), and a requirement to respond to calls for service by phone (not just smart phone apps), among other regulations.

Testimony from Uber has proven the company wants to operate like a taxi for “fill in” fares when luxury business is slow or the taxi business is brisk, but do not want to be required to adhere to all regulations taxis must follow each and every day, nor minimum luxury fare regulations.

“Uber’s model is to serve who they want, when they want, where they want and charge what they want with no interference by any regulations whatsoever,” said Roger Chapin, an executive with Mears Transportation and Florida Taxicab Association Board member.  “They can do that today, provided they follow the one rule in place for luxury operators – a minimum fare – that has existed for decades without controversy and is designed to prohibit precisely Uber’s business model, which is to cherry pick taxi fares when it suits them, and not follow taxi regulations when it doesn’t.”

In an earlier committee meeting, State Representative Frank Artiles (R – Miami) sought assurances for consumer protection from the Uber bill.  “Miami Dade does have regulations in place,” he stated. “I have serious concerns regarding this bill.  Rate increases, surge pricing, rate protection, insurance coverage, surplus lines.  At this time I will support this bill, however, there is another stop, and I expect for this to be fixed, and if not, I will vote it down at the next stop.”

State Representative and Chairman of House Economic Affairs Committee Jimmy Patronis (R – Panama City) asked bluntly, “Is surge pricing legal?” in reference to Uber’s practice of increasing fares on passengers without warning for inclement weather or special events.

“If Uber puts these other car companies out of business, what will my senior citizens do for a ride?” asked State Representative Irving Slosberg (D – Delray Beach) referencing the fact that Uber does not provide ADA service, underserves the elderly and denies service to socioeconomically or otherwise disadvantaged individuals.

State Representative Mark Danish (D – Tampa) stated, “After listening to both sides I found out the gray area is huge.  We need to put a pause button on this,” then questioned, “Do we want a bill about a local issue on the floor of the House?”

Adding more trepidation pertaining to the lack of insurance and licensing, Uber is already advertising for driver positions in several cities across Florida for its “UberX” product, a service that encourages for-hire commercial transportation of passengers by non-licensed, uninsured every day drivers.  State Representative Ed Hooper (R – Clearwater) asked, “Is a chauffeur-driven limo required to have specific class of commercial driver’s license or just a regular drivers’ license?”

 (Click here to see Judge ruling to stop ridesharing practice in St. Louis)

“Uber wants to have it both ways”, said Louie Minardi, President of the Florida Taxicab Association and Yellow Cab owner in Tampa.  “They want to operate exactly like a taxi when there are good fares, but not provide service or follow the rules all other taxis must follow when times are slower.”

Taxis are highly regulated in most every community they serve.  They are prohibited from denying service to any consumer.  In the City of Orlando for example, Chapter 55 (Sec. 55.31 “Driver Obligations”) in local ordinance states:  “No taxicab driver shall refuse any request for transportation from any orderly passenger where the destination of the trip is within the Tri-County Area.”

The Florida Taxicab Association recently released a poll showing Uber’s practice of only serving customers with  “smart phones” and credit cards, leaves out roughly 50% of the public.

According to University of Central Florida Professor and PHD James Wright, “UBER-ineligible Floridians are disproportionately Hispanic (59%) and African American (55%), low income (70% not eligible among those earning less than 25K per year vs. 26% in the highest income group), and the elderly (64% not eligible among those 65 and older).”

Uber has also come under fire nationally for their practice of rating passengers.  In testimony, the Uber bill sponsor, State Representative James Grant (R-Tampa), revealed to lawmakers that Uber rates passengers and the Uber “driver has the ability to see ratings of you”.  His testimony continued that Uber could then decide “if you are somebody” they may reject service to” in the future.  (Source:  Florida House of Representatives, Transportation & Highway Safety Subcommittee – March 24, 2014)

“Why else would Uber ‘rate’ a passenger except to deny them service in the future?” asked Mr. Minardi.  “Taxis in Florida and throughout the nation are expressly prohibited by local regulations from denying anyone service.”

“Allowing Uber to operate without any regulation, then ‘rate passengers’ to ultimately deny them service in the future, takes us back to a dark place in history”, added Chapin.  “How do they rate poor tippers, an elderly person who requires more assistance, someone who regularly needs a short trip to the doctor or someone whom the driver may just not like the way they look?”

 

For more information contact Roger Chapin, Florida Taxicab Association Board Member and executive at Mears Transportation Group in Orlando, FL at RChapin@MearsTransportation.com or 407/422-4561.
Florida Taxicab Association Assails Uber’s Rating of Passengers – Cites Safety, Privacy and Discrimination

Today the Florida Taxicab Association called Uber’s rating of passengers “dangerous and discriminatory”.  In recent legislative testimony in Tallahassee, it was revealed to lawmakers that Uber rates passengers and the Uber “driver has the ability to see ratings of you”.  The testimony continued that Uber could then decide “if you are somebody” they may reject service to” in the future.  (Source:  Florida House of Representatives, Transportation & Highway Safety Subcommittee – March 24, 2014)

“Why else would Uber ‘rate’ a passenger except to deny them service in the future?” asked Louie Minardi, President of the Florida Taxicab Association and Yellow Cab operator in Tampa, FL.  “Taxis in Florida and throughout the nation are expressly prohibited by local regulations from denying anyone service.”

Taxis are highly regulated in most every community they serve.  They are prohibited from denying service to any consumer.  In the City of Orlando for example, the local ordinance states:  “No taxicab driver shall refuse any request for transportation from any orderly passenger where the destination of the trip is within the Tri-County Area.”

“Allowing Uber to ‘rate passengers’ and ultimately deny them service in the future, takes us back to a dark place in history”, says Roger Chapin, Florida Taxicab Association Board Member and Vice President for Mears Transportation in Orlando, FL.  “How do they rate poor tippers, an elderly person who requires more assistance, someone who regularly needs a short trip to the doctor, someone whom the driver may just not like the way they look?”

The Daily Beast reporter, Olivia Nuzzi, recently reported a personal experience in which her privacy and personal safety was put in serious risk by Uber’s rating system.

The Florida Taxicab Association believes allowing Uber drivers to rate passengers for the decision on providing future service is unlawful, dangerous, an invasion of privacy and discriminatory.  Uber however has a long history of only providing service WHEN they want, to WHO they want, WHERE they want and CHARGING what they want.  If they get their way in Tallahassee, local governments will be outlawed from ensuring Uber follows the rules of the road.

The Association recently released a poll showing Uber’s practice of only serving customers with “smart phones” and credit cards, already leaves out roughly 50% of the public.

According to University of Central Florida Professor and PHD James Wright, “UBER-ineligible Floridians are disproportionately Hispanic (59%) and African American (55%), low income (70% not eligible among those earning less than 25K per year vs. 26% in the highest income group), and the elderly (64% not eligible among those 65 and older).” 

For more information contact Roger Chapin at RChapin@MearsTransportation.com or 407/422-4561.

Statewide Poll Shows Floridians Against Giving Uber “Free Ride”

 

Click Here for a Copy of the Poll, PDF Download

A statewide poll of more than 3,000 Floridians released today found that 78% of Floridians believe the transportation provider and ride sharing mobile app company Uber should be regulated the same as taxis and other transportation providers.  The poll, commissioned by Mears Transportation Group and supported by the Florida Taxicab Association asked Floridians for their opinions on the vehicle-for-hire industry, laws that regulate the industry and specifically how they felt about Uber’s business model.

Uber and other ridesharing or “network” companies’ business plan relies heavily on changing or ignoring local regulations - regulations designed to protect consumers and ensure service to all citizens.

Ironically, one of the most interesting findings in the poll relates to Uber’s business model, in that Uber fails to even OFFER service to approximately 50 percent of the public.  This figure is predicated on the fact that Uber requires smartphones and credit cards in order to sign up and utilize their service.

“Based on my review of the polling data, statewide, about half of those polled would be unable to use the UBER service,” said Dr. James Wright, the Provost’s Distinguished Research Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Central Florida.  “The UBER-ineligible Floridians are disproportionately Hispanic (59%) and African American (55%), low income (70% not eligible among those earning less than 25K per year vs. 26% in the highest income group), and the elderly (64% not eligible among those 65 and older).”

Other important findings from the poll:

·      83% think Uber should be required to license their drivers the same as the taxi industry;

·      92% want Uber to carry traditional liability insurance like taxis and other transportation providers;

·      83% think Uber should serve ALL customers without discrimination;

·      69% believe Uber’s fares (what they charge passengers) should be regulated to always be the same instead of the controversial “price surging” that the company employs,  charging higher rates during inclement weather or a sporting events;

·      89% think Uber drivers should have to go through the same background checks that local taxi drivers must complete; and

·      78% of Floridians believe Uber should adhere to the same regulations that taxis must go through on the local level.

Uber representatives recently lobbied the Florida Senate Transportation Committee for statewide legislation that would preempt cities and counties from enforcing certain rules and regulations.

Cities and counties across the country are grappling with how to regulate Uber and other “ride sharing” and “transportation network companies”.  Regulators are trying to address liability, fare regulation, consumer complaints, service to the socially and economically disadvantaged and ADA “equal access” for the disabled, among other important consumer protection issues.

Uber claims it is not a “transportation company”, despite recruiting and paying drivers, marketing to customers, taking ride requests, dispatching drivers, calculating fares and ultimately charging passengers’ credit cards.  Instead they claim they are an intermediary that should not be subject to traditional and longstanding regulations imposed at the local level in cities and counties across Florida and the nation.  The definition of taxicab service is typically defined as demand response transportation service for which the passenger is charged on a per mile basis.  Uber provides taxicab service, but they do not think they should be subject to local taxicab regulation designed to ensure service to all residents at a price they can trust.

The poll was conducted by Frederick Polls and surveyed 3,024 Floridians in Jacksonville, Tampa Bay, Central Florida and South Florida from January 7th to February 13th with an average margin of error of 1.8%.

For more information or comment on the poll, contact Roger Chapin, Executive Vice President of Public Affairs for Mears Transportation Group in Orlando, FL at RChapin@MearsTransportation.com                                               

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James D. Wright is an author, educator, and the Provost’s Distinguished Research Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Central Florida.  Wright also serves as the Director of the UCF Institute for Social and Behavioral Sciences.  His bio can be found here:  http://sociology.cos.ucf.edu/people/wright-james/

Mears Transportation Group is Central Florida’s largest taxi and luxury car operator giving the company unique insight into the regulatory nature for both industries.  Mears has been providing transportation services since 1939.

The Florida Taxicab Association is a membership association that is diverse in size and business location.  As a whole the member companies comprise nearly 3,000 taxicabs throughout the State of Florida and have a significant impact on the overall economy in the State as well as the localities in which they operate. They also are active members in each community, creating employment opportunities and supporting important community and not-for-profit initiatives. The primary mission of the association is to share best industry practices and advocate as a unified voice as it pertains to new laws and regulations in Florida.

Transportation Network Companies…the Rest of the Story

The Senate Transportation Committee will hold a discussion on “Innovative Transportation Technologies” today.  Neither the Florida Taxicab Association nor any of its member companies were invited to participate, despite having some of the most advanced technology in the industry.  Given the long history of Florida based transportation companies providing important economic benefits to the State and the communities in which they operate, it is unfortunate companies that simply “take money out of the State” are receiving special invitations to showcase their technologies.

Click here for rest of the story

Florida Taxicab Association Addresses Real-Time Passenger Booking Apps

BACKGROUND:  Like every industry in the world, the taxicab industry has witnessed, produced and welcomed new technology into everyday business practice.  For example, taxicab businesses can now track their fleets using real-time global positioning satellite technology allowing them to send the closest available taxicab to the passenger. Also, many taxicab operators have installed video surveillance cameras in the vehicles to enhance driver and passenger safety and the industry has embraced and helped develop smartphone applications that allow a customer to order a taxi and then pay for the fare through the phone.  There is no resistance on the part of the taxi industry toward new technology.

If you go to the Iphone app store and search for “taxicab” over 2,000 apps are available, many of which are private label applications that allow local taxicab customers to order and track their cabs.  If you narrow your search to “taxi hail”, you will get over 40 private label apps.  The evidence is clear that the industry is developing software to improve its service and help the customer book a cab.  For example, in Orlando, Yellow Cab Company has an app labeled “Mears Taxi”.  The features within this app give the consumer the option of booking a cab with only three touches.  The information supplied through the app includes the location of the cab assigned to you, the cab number and the estimated fare.

None of the individual taxicab service provider apps have gained as much nationwide popularity as the app called “Uber”.  The reasons are simple, (1) the Uber app is available in over 40 U.S. cities; (2) Uber’s business model relies on ignoring, changing or simply violating local laws in many municipalities; and (3) Uber’s business model appears to be based on converting traditional taxicab trips to luxury sedan trips.

A reasonable person could take the position that maybe Uber simply invented a better “mouse-trap” and they deserve to have nationwide acceptance.  That is clearly what Uber’s founder and CEO, Travis Kalanick wants you to think.  In a recent money.cnn.com article the author stated that in communities with regulations that may impact their business model, “Uber rolls out an experimental fleet. If there’s substantial regulatory risk, the company lets regulators know and watches for 30 days to see whether rules are enforced.  If they’re not enforced, we call this regulatory ambiguity”.

It is this type of “above the law” mentality and total disregard for laws and regulations that gives all for-profit businesses a bad reputation.

The overriding question with regard to the local acceptance of Uber is whether or not the current regulations in many towns are reasonable and in the best interest of the riding public?  If the current laws are in the best interest of the public, then Uber should not be allowed to violate them.  If anyone views laws as unreasonable, then there is a legislative and regulatory process for potential changes.

No two communities have the exact same regulation over the delivery of taxicab service.  Therefore, the Florida Taxicab Association will address taxicab regulation that is common among many municipalities in Florida and compare that to the Uber customer service plan and business approach.

  1. Providing transportation services is in many instances a critical and personal service for the passenger.  A high percentage of taxi customers use the service for grocery shopping, going to the doctor or simply going to work.  Taxicab businesses traditionally see a rise in business when monthly Social Security checks are issued.  This highlights the importance of taxicab service for our senior citizens.  Many local regulatory agencies mandate that the company behind the vehicle and the driver provide minimum insurance levels, operate vehicles that meet minimum standards, deal with customer complaints, manage driver background checks and be responsible for driver motor vehicle record checks.  This is in stark comparison to Uber’s position posted on their website that states; “The quality of the transportation services requested through the use of the Application or the Service is entirely the responsibility of the Transportation Provider who ultimately provides such transportation services to you.  Uber under no circumstance accepts liability in connection with and/or arising from the transportation services provided by the Transportation Provider or any acts, action, behavior, conduct, and/or negligence on the part of the Transportation Provider.  Any complaints about the transportation services provided by the Transportation Provider should therefore be submitted to the Transportation Provider.”  This position is even more surprising given that Uber actually contracts with the transportation providers that it recommends to its passenger base.
  2. Most municipalities that provide regulation over the demand response (taxicab) transportation industry mandate that the industry offer service 24 hours per day, seven days per week.  Further, these rules normally also include the requirement to service all the community, not just the affluent areas.  Along these lines, Uber’s contract with the passenger posted on their website states; “Uber itself does not provide transportation services, and Uber is not a transportation carrier.  Uber only acts as intermediary between you and the Transportation Provider.  The provision of transportation services by the Transportation Provider to you is therefore subject to the agreement (to be) entered into between you and the Transportation Provider.  Uber shall never be a party to such an agreement.”  Uber has a history of requesting that local elected officials change the policies that protect the public, but they tell the public that they are not in the transportation business?
  3. Most municipalities set the rate taxicab companies can charge.  They do this because the very nature of “demand response” transportation suggests that the passenger, in many instances, is not shopping for the service.  In other words, the passenger may be an uninformed consumer.  In contrast to this position, Uber has a history of charging peak demand pricing during peak times.  Not only do they set the rates as they deem necessary, they have, at times, changed their published rates in a town when the town was experiencing high demand.  Some would call this “price gouging”.
  4. Most local ordinances mandate a public meter to determine passenger fare pricing.  This way, the passenger can see how much they are spending while they are spending it.  In most instances, the operation of the meter is inspected by the local or state government to ensure its accuracy.  In the Uber model, the passenger has no way of determining the fare until their individual smart phone tells them the fare at the end of the trip.  The Uber calculated fare is a complicated algorithm that includes a base rate, plus a distance rate unless the vehicle is traveling under 11 mph, then the rate changes to a base rate, plus a time rate.  This is similar to how most taxicab meters operate, except the operation of the meter is public and fare calculation is inspected, as opposed to a fare simply appearing on your smart phone.

As previously mentioned, the Uber type “on demand” technology is not new.  What is new in most cities is the concept of offering “on demand” luxury service in a Lincoln Town Car or Cadillac.  For many years, the primary distinctions the industry and local regulators made between taxi and luxury car service were that taxi service was “on demand” and luxury cars were “pre-arranged” and the luxury car rate was on an hourly basis as opposed to a per mile basis in a taxi.  The on-demand service normally had more regulatory hurdles simply because the local elected officials understood that on-demand service would involve the uninformed passenger and reservation based service (luxury Town Car) would be booked in advance by a consumer who shopped for the service and agreed up front to the price.

Because the consumer is not necessarily “informed” about on-demand service quality and because many consumers will assume the “next available” taxi is safe, properly inspected, has necessary insurance, charges a rate that is in keeping with the market; many local governments have decided to impose regulations to help ensure on-demand service meets certain minimum standards.  Again, because the traditional luxury sedan service was sold to a consumer who negotiated in advance of the trip what they thought was the best service at the best rate, they did not need the same level of government protection as the uninformed buyer who simply needed a “Yellow” cab to take them to a doctor’s appointment.

In some instances, the laws regulating the taxicab industry may seem like they provide some protection from competition.  That is true.  However, the elected officials who passed these regulations understand that the industry is a critical component of the local public transportation system.  Policy makers have rightfully decided that safety is paramount, taxis must be available for all residents at all times and at a regulated price.  Once pricing, service area constraints and service hour requirements are placed on an industry, the industry will need protection in order to survive.  Should the local regulations allow luxury sedans to capture the demand response, per mile business at peak times, in the safest neighborhoods and at fares set at the whim of the business’s management?  If so, then the taxicab industry would either cease to exist or the overall availability would dramatically decline, especially in economically challenged areas.

SUMMARY:  Innovation and new technology is vital to every industry.  There is a place for on-demand smartphone apps in many cities across the country.  However, it is vitally important that luxury car operators are not allowed to bypass long-standing regulations designed to protect the traveling public, provide a framework for fairness and ensure service availability.

Uber is not creating new jobs within the industry or new service demand.  They are simply converting taxicab trips to luxury vehicle trips for the affluent.  Uber is a private entity established in the Netherlands with its office at Barbara Strozzilaan 201, 1083 HN Amsterdam.  While they may improve a service experience with a luxury car passenger, their model, if allowed to bypass local regulation, will destroy what is today a vital lifeline for traditional taxi customers.

The Florida Taxicab Association supports on-demand transportation apps provided they exist in compliance with the laws of each locality they wish to serve.  To change longstanding rules for a smart phone app whose owners do not understand the importance of taxi service and readily admit to NOT BEING A TRANSPORTATION PROVIDER would be unwise and result in less business for taxi drivers and poor service for traditional taxi customers.

© 2014 Florida Taxicab Association. All rights reserved.