Friday, April 12, 2013

The CPUC Workshops

Workshops on Rulemaking on Regulations Relating to Passenger Carriers, Ridesharing and New Online-Enabled Transportation Services (NOETS) were held on April 10-11, 2013 at the San Francisco CPUC auditorium. In the photo are some of the attorneys for Sidecar, Lyft and Uber.

I'm just giving a short impression of the workshops so I'm not going to do a laundry list of the people involved. I'm going to go into more detail later. Besides, the proceeding were videotaped and the speakers gave their names before talking. A link to the video will be provided at the end of the post.

My impression is that these proceeding were largely decided before the workshops were held. There are several reasons for this:

  • As is well-known, Cease and Desist Orders were removed from Lyft and Uber before the hearings began.
  • Less well-known is the fact that the Cease and Desist Order has not been removed from Sidecar. Nonetheless, the company has put out around 1,000 illegal cabs since they were given the Order and are not even going to be slapped on the wrist for it.
  • In fact, a Sidecar attorney has said that they have just about worked an arrangement with the CPUC which would seem to make the proceeding very much beside the point.
  • The CPUC backed up, not only Lyft, but Sidecar when they refused to show their "Million Dollar" insurance polices for us to look at.
  • Early in the workshop an Uber official was given all the time he wanted to present his position. Director Christiane Hayashi of the SFMTA was later cut off in the midst of a speech because the moderator said that she was taking too much time.
But you can judge this for yourself.

In addition, the very way the issues were formulated assumed the acceptance of Lyft, Sidecar and Uber's major positions.

   1. We were instructed to frame our comments in terms "protecting public safety" and "encouraging technological innovation."

  • Early on, the moderators repeatedly interrupted the proceeding to say that speakers weren't addressing the part about "encouraging innovation" enough.
  • After the third such interruption, it became clear that by "technological innovation" they meant what Lyft, Sidecar and Uber do.

    2. We were also told to work out a "compromise" which would naturally assume the legal acceptance of Lyft, Sidecar and Uber.

  • A compromise could be worked with Uber - in so far as it operates as taxi app or a limo service.
    •  But compromise is of no interest to them whatsoever.
  • Legalizing the bogus, so called "ridesharing services," the actual illegal taxicab services of Lyft and Sidecar, would effectively deregulate and thus destroy the legal taxicab industry. 
    • There is clearly no room for compromise on this issue.

Numerous speakers pointed out that the apps used by the NOETS are in no important ways different than apps such as Taxi Magic and Flywheel that are already being used by taxis and limos.

My own position (was and is) that the only thing innovative about the NOETS has been their insistence in marketing their products by violating laws and ordinances set up to protect the public.

I would like to add that with many technologies the original invention is the crucial thing - the one that changes the world. All further innovations and improvements are minor or secondary.

Take the word processor for instance. We get a new version of Word every few years but it makes little difference except to our pocketbooks. The thing that the changed the way I write was the original invention. In fact, the WordPerfect program that I used fifteen years ago was in many ways easier to use and better than the world processor I'm using now.

With Taxi apps the major innovations are over. They all connect passengers and drivers more or less instanteously. They all have GPS showing routes and giving approximate times for connection. They all offer the driver the option of talking to the customer and visa versa.

Unless someone comes up with a way to transport customers ala Star Trek technological innovations are not really at issue here.

What was not mentioned as subjects for the workshops were the negative effects that the NOETS are having on the incomes, protections and benefits of professional drivers as well as the taxicab and limo industries.

One positive sign in the workshops was that an attorney for Sidecar seemed to think that HIS side was being abused and accused us of making "ad hominen attacks" on them. I don't really know what he was talking about because, with one or two admittedly regrettable exceptions, I think we pretty much attacked them on the issues.

But the attorney did add a little levity to the workshop by snapping at a CPUC official when she asked him a question.

"Don't interrupt me when I'm speaking!" he snarled. And people criticize me for being abrasive?

For physicists only: The most ridiculous argument was put forth by Attorney Edward O'Neill of Uber when he claimed that the few seconds it takes for a passenger to hail a cab using an Uber app and be accepted by an Uber driver constitutes "pre-arrangement."

Hmm - is my comment ad hominen?  O'Neill's argument is its own reductio ad absurdum.

Anyway - you can watch the action here.


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