Sunday, June 21, 2015

Uber Hypocrisy at SFMTA Meeting: or, the First Casualty of Venture Capital is truth

Speaking at the SFMTA hearing on the Vision Zero plan for a Safer Market Street, Mark Gruberg of the San Francisco Taxi Workers Alliance spoke to the "hypocrisy of Uber" being in Sacramento claiming that they should be "exempt from commercial vehicle" registration at the same as they were in San Francisco wanting "the privileges" of commercial vehicles.

This seemed to become a moot point when both Uber and Lyft speakers later backed the plan.

However, their endorsement for a Safer Market Street really was yet another demonstration of their posturing and mendacity because they primarily gave their support for two reasons: they realized that they were not going to be allowed to use transit lanes in any case and it gave them a chance to undermine the taxi industry.

Annabel R. Chang, Public Policy Manager for Lyft, said that Lyft "... supports safety as a top priority ..." and added that no passenger for hire vehicles should be allowed to use Market, including taxis.

I followed Ms. Chang to the podium. There is no word in current American usage to describe my feelings at that moment. I have to reach back to another century: "flabbergasted," "flummoxed" or "discombobulated" come closest. Why? A partial list:

  • Taxicab drivers are fingerprinted, trained and pass a test showing knowledge of the city. TNCs refuse to make their drivers do any of these things. TNC drivers are justly famous for looking at their GPS instead of the road while driving to a location.
  • Taxicabs are mechanically inspected yearly by SFO and regularly by their own companies. Uber & Lyft might or might not inspect their vehicles. They do sometimes send the CPUC a note saying that they inspect them. Teams of their high priced lawyers are currently in Sacramento fighting to keep their vehicles from being inspected by agencies like SFO – a best practice for vehicles carrying passengers not only in California but all over the world.
  • SF taxicabs carry full million dollars insurance and Workers Comp policies that are in effect 24/7. Uber & Lyft have "contingent" (I don't know what it means either) insurance policies that sometimes promise million dollar coverage but cap out at $100,000 most of the time. Neither Uber nor Lyft carry Workers Comp for their drivers.
  • Oh – yes. Insurance companies are offering TNC hybrid polices (to be examined later) that obviously give less coverage than the commercial insurance carried by taxis. But neither Uber nor Lyft require their drivers to carry this hybrid insurance.
  • The people least covered and most endangered by Uber & Lyft's shaky insurance and unsafe business practices are bicyclists and pedestrians.
Uber & Lyft spokespersons have repeatedly said that they were refusing to fingerprint or have their drivers trained by accredited schools or have their vehicles inspected by qualified and licensed mechanics because they found such regulations "unnecessary", "arbitrary and burdensome," "onerous" and expensive. (1) 

Lyft actually left Houston rather than submit to vehicle inspections and fingerprinting.

Both Uber & Lyft have repeatedly said that fingerprinting and outside mechanical inspections " ... will create additional delays and extra costs ... "(2) which would slow down the hiring process. Both Uber & Lyft would like you to think that they are concerned with the incomes of their drivers. But, needless to say to anyone not an Uber & Lyft management type, the only cost that really concerns them is the thought of losing potential venture capital investment dollars.

Uber & Lyft have chosen money over safety – not only in background checks, mechanical inspections and insurance – but in half a dozen other ways. These companies have spent millions of dollars in attorney's fees making certain that the family of Sophia Liu, who was killed by an Uber driver with a reckless driving conviction, would not be compensated for their million dollar medical bills. The family was paid $15,000 by the driver's insurance company. San francisco taxpayers will pick up the rest of the tab.

Uber & Lyft have also spent tons of money attacking legislators in Sacramento and other places who tried to regulate the VC companies in order to make certain that they would continue to carrt less insurance than taxis – insuring that the family of the next person run down by one of their badly vetted, untrained drivers won't be fully compensated either.

A good part of the money that Uber & Lyft save by pinching pennies on safety and gain by congesting the streets is being spent to undercut cab fares and destroy the taxicab business

Thus – my discombobulation with the ideas of Lyft's "support for safety as a top priority" and taxis being given an unfair competitive advantage.  For the first time in my adult life, I was almost rendered speechless – almost.

 A few more arguments against Uber & Lyfts use of Market Street transit lanes.

I did manage to say that the sheer numbers of Ubers and Lyfts would destroy Vision Zero and that we pay millions of dollars a year to the city in various fees which should entitle us to use transit lanes. But I want to expound a little on these points.

1. A spokesman for Vision Zero said that "reducing the volume of turning vehicles ... is the singe best way to reduce accidents" at the 20 most dangerous intersections in the city. The Safer Market Street plan only includes four of those intersections. But if the city did nothing else but exclude 20,000 to 30,000 untrained Uber & Lyft drivers in uninspected vehicles from Market Street, it would reduce the number of accidents all by itself.

Eliminating Ubers & Lyfts from the other 16 most dangerous intersections would have a similar effect. This probably isn't possible. What would be possible would be to greatly reduce the number of these unsafe vehicles in the city (to say a thousand) and force Uber & Lyft to either follow best safety practices or leave.

If somebody thinks these apps are really necessary I'm sure a company like Summon would be more than willing to pick up the slack and Flywheel would be more than happy to add more taxis and continue to accept the onerous burden of regulations that they already follow.

If the San Francisco really wants to have safe streets they need to hold Public Convenience & Necessity Hearings and make an environmental impact study of the effects that TNCs have had on the city. I think such studies will show that:
  • Uber & Lyft have at least 10 times more vehicles than are necessary to serve the public. 
  • They are mostly cannibalizing the taxi business and each other in their continued fervor to put out more and more vehicles.
  • They are a major cause of congestion.
  • They are major polluters. 
Of course Uber & Lyft will dispute the above statements. If they think that I am wrong, why do they fight against having such studies done?

2. I don't have the exact figures handy but, since taxi medallions went on sale in 2010, San Francisco has taken in over 50 million dollars as the it's cut.  Uber, Lyft et al have paid nothing while wearing down the streets with 10 or 20 times as many vehicles as there are taxis.

Refusing to let taxis use transit lanes or make turns on market would be another way to help Uber & Lyft destroy the cab business. And, it would be an inconvenience to passengers who want to get places quickly and SAFELY.

Allowing Uber & Lyft to destroy the taxi business would put them in total control of taxi-like passenger transportation which would enable them to blackmail the city into being giving them even more and more special privileges at San Francisco's expense. And, course, the millions of dollars in taxi revenue would disappear – not  likely to be replaced by Uber & Lyft.

Uber & Lyft's real business

 I partially agree with Uber's contention that they are not in the transportation business. Of course they are in the faux taxi business: they set the rates for both the customers and the drivers, they determine how many vehicles are put on the street, they decide what cities they should go into, they hire and fire their drivers.

But this is secondary to their most important business, their real business – venture capital investment and the accumulation of wealth for its own sake. Their app is merely a means to profit from their investments.

Maximizing that profit clearly is their only moral imperative. They talk a lot about about being innovative but the most innovative thing about them is their lack of ethics. And, their "business model," which is based on libertarian philosophy, is but a worship of greed. As such it's atavistic. It goes back to the Sumerian worship of the god Mammon who predates Christianity by 3,000 years. To this theology, Uber & Lyft sacrifice every other value: safety, protection of environment, the welfare of both the public and their drivers, the democratic process, beauty, justice, pedestrians, cyclists and truth.

I digress ... but has anybody ever hear the word "sharing" be more misused and debased than it has been by these characters?


1. Kristin Svercheck General Counsel of Lyft – Reply Comments Of Lyft On … Amending The Scoping Memo And Ruling For Phase Ii Of the Order Instituting Rulemaking on Regulations Relating to Passenger Carriers, Ridesharing, and New Online-Enabled Transportation Services.
2. Lyft Reply Comments – Attachment A

Thursday, June 18, 2015

SFMTA Nixes Uber/Lyft Red Lane Use

Taxi and TNC drivers packed room 400 at City Hall to give their opinions on the Vision Zero plan for a Safer Market Street. The goal of the plan is "to eliminate all traffic fatalities by 2024".

Uber drivers were there to demand access to the red transit lanes and the cab drivers came to stop this from happening.

However, early signs indicated that the members of SFMTA Board were predisposed in our favor. Director Malcolm Heinicke appeared to support taxicabs on another issue and Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin had signed off on a presentation to the CPUC calling for stricter regulation of TNCs. Perhaps most important, the SF Bicycle Coalition was in favor of the plan – they rarely lose political battles in this town.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Why People Use Flywheel & Taxis Instead of Uber or Lyfts: Part II or No Small Print

In my last post, I left out one obvious reason why people are leaving Uber & Lyft for Flywheel and that is  price-gouging or "surge-pricing" as they euphemistically call it.

One former Uber customer who switched to Flywheel told me that he thought the so-called formulas that Uber uses to raise the prices are, "Bullshit! They just do it because they can," he said.

"You know," a businessman explained, "you just get used to doing something and you keep on doing it. Then, suddenly it gets to be too much ... One Friday night I went from the Marina to North Beach. When we got there, I learned that they'd charged me 3X. Three times the normal rate – almost $30 to go a mile and a half. That was it. It's taxis from now on."

But back to the businessman who said that taxi drivers have gotten better while TNC drivers have gotten worse.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Why People Use Flywheel & Taxicabs Instead of Ubers or Lyfts

Customer response to the Flywheel taxicab app have been overwhelmingly positive. The number of people using the app grew 6X over the last year despite limited funds for advertising.

This fact has been ignored by all forms of media so I thought I'd write about it myself.

I've gotten most of my information from talking with over a hundred of my taxi and Flywheel customers. The following ideas and comments come from these ad hoc interviews.

A major reason why Flywheel is becoming more popular ...

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Uber & Other TNCs Continue to Illegally Cruise for Rides at SFO: MTA Shelves Plans to Limit Access of 8,000 & "S" Series Cabs at SFO

 Uber and other TNCs regularly wait at the curbs for five or ten minutes after dropping at SFO.

Others hide out with their marking taken off (in defiance of section 3.4 of the TNC Pilot Program) at deserted terminals and corners of the airport with their phones ready to accept rides.

Still others continually circle both drop-off and pick-up areas looking for rides with their apps open.

They are both a major cause of congestion and blockers of curbs –making it difficult for cabs, legal limos and the general public to drop off and pick up their customers or friends.

These poorly insured, uninspected vehicles with their unvetted and untrained drivers are the ones that are causing the congestion at SFO: not the vetted, trained and experienced drivers of fully insured taxicabs that have been inspected by the San Francisco Airport itself.

The TNCs remain the only form of mass transportation that trick their customers into signing a hidden waiver of liability in case of negligence before allowing them to ride.

At today's MTA meeting Director Heinicke said that the plans to hold 8,000 and "S" series taxis out of SFO had been shelved.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Kansas City Major Sly James' Speech Dissing Uber's Innovative Negligence

Hi I'm back to pass on words spoken or written by others – starting with a powerful speech by Kansas City Mayor Sly James.

On Thursday, April 9, 2015, the KCMO City Council unanimously approved an updated "Vehicles for Hire" code (Ordinance 150203) that lowers fees for drivers and streamlines permitting. It also requires all such drivers to have back-ground checks and register with the city.

Uber apparently tried to destroy Mayor James' career for opposing them. We could use an honest politician with guts like his here. 

Below are links to a few articles on the absurdly named "Sharing Economy" which is really "Wealth Inequality"  and a well researched and thoughtful piece on Uber's attempt to replace the Taxi Business .

As a bonus here are a few more Videos:

Who is driving you?

FUNNY OR DIE gives you An Apology from Uber

And, let me end with this question: How unreal was the humor?

Friday, February 27, 2015

Brutal Attack on S.F. Cab Driver Over $36 Fare.

The ABC coverage of this attack was sent to me by driver Dave Schneider who writes.

    "Think reality is all it's cracked up to be with its two bit acts and players ... low level challenges right?  

    For what it's worth perhaps I didn't follow proper procedure and no one elected me and I ain't no perfect person, still I've been in communication with SFMTA regulators re a discreet panic button also advocated by a lady veteran driver.  I just get the run around.  Maybe it's my bad karma.  Had that panic button been in place going directly into 911 it might have helped in the recent bloody attack on the cab driver. 

    However, at the same time, the cab driver followed the perp and asked for the $.  That turned out to be a bad mistake as the driver was beaten to a pulp.  Perhaps a rookie mistake -- although maybe you can't blame him.  Hey I ain't no perfect person, but I wouldn't have followed him.  

    I also couldn't even get the bastards at the SFMTA to issue a public service annoucement of the location of the new Mission Bay UCSF children's emergency at Mariposa and Minnesota off of 3rd Street so you think they are going to lift a finger to protect the cabbies they regulate?

Give me a break ... and I ain't no perfect person to say the least.  But the protection of human life ought to be beyond the worth of the messenger/s don't you think ... ."

Yes, I think.