Friday, November 14, 2014

En Farce: Part One

Acting, as usual, more like a spokesperson for Uber, Lyft & Sidecar than a director of Policy and Planning for the CPUC, Marzia Zafar, who was supposed to be a neutral moderator, came to the defence of the TNC conglomerates when a spokesman for the taxi & limo businesses pointed out that the TNCs did not do Department of Justice (DOJ) background checks using fingerprints.

Ms. Zafar (photo left) argued that the venture capitalized transportation corporations (VCTCs) did do background checks but did them online. She spoke as if she had scored the final point (online background checks = the DOJ's background checks) for their side and that the subject was closed.

This was – at the same time – one of the most typical and most bizarre moments of the CPUC hearings on so-called "ridesharing" that started in March of 2013.

It was typical in that it expressed the unbridled bias that the commission has shown in favor of the TNCs from before the hearing actually started.  The following is partial list of CPUC partisanship:
  • The CPUC stopped cease and desist orders against Uber and Lyft before the hearings began – allowing the TNCs to put thousands of illegal cabs on the street before a decision was officially made.
  • The CPUC did not lift the cease and desist order against Sidecar but let them put out a thousand cars anyway despite the fact that the CPUC knew that Sidecar had lied about having a million dollar insurance policy.
  • An Uber official was allowed to give a forty minute speech at the opening session of the hearings despite the fact that he wasn't a party to the proceeding. We (the parties) were not allowed the ask him questions.
  • Ms. Zafar later interrupted a presentation by San Francisco's Director of Taxis Christiane Hayashi (who was a party to the proceeding) after ten minutes and would not allow her to even finish her sentence.
  • The CPUC refused and continues to refuse to do an environmental impact study.
  • The CPUC refused and continues to refuse to make the TNCs open their books.
  • The CPUC refused to make the TNCs show their insurance policies during the initial hearings and stated that they were fully insured which was not and is not true; and, if the VCTCs and the CPUC have their way, never will be true.
More up to date – at the En Banc itself:
  • Marzia Zafar loaded the accessibility panel with pro-VCTC people including Andy Katz of  Transform – who is a TNC promoter not a disability advocate – while deliberately leaving pedestrian advocate Bob Planthold of the S.F. Mayor's Disability Council off of the panel.
  • Ms. Zafar told Barry Korengold, who was representing the taxi industry, that his time was up before the 5 minute limit had expired. Not something she did to anybody else.
  • Ms. Zafar allowed TNC people (appropriately dressed in black) to speak last – which of course is the most powerful position because it allows the speakers to rebut all who go before them while nobody can rebut them.
  • A few weeks before the En Banc, I asked Ms. Zafar's assistant April Mulqueen if I could bring an expert in green house gases in to give a brief talk. She told me that there would be no outside speakers allowed. Shortly afterwards, the CPUC added an inept and biased study of TNC vs taxi response times that did not include a comparison with Flywheel using taxis – which are 90% of the fleet.
Last but certainly not least the Director himself Commissioner Michael R. Peevey didn't even have the courtesy to listen to what the taxi and limo speakers had to say. Then again, why should he? The outcome clearly had already been decided in ex parte communications between Peavy and the TNCs before the En Banc began.

Did I say "bizarre" in reference to Ms. Zafar's equating online background checks with the DOJ's?

This probably is the wrong word. "Stupefying" might be better. I'll let you decide.

First of all, no rational and objective person would consider them equal because:

  1. An online check can only go back 7 years while the DOJ checks a person's entire life for criminal behavior.
  2. Without fingerprints you can't know for certain if the person being checked is in fact the person he or she says he or she is.
Lyft CEO John Zimmer did throw out a red herring during the original hearings by claiming there were people who did not have fingerprints but he was discredited by a taxi driver who pointed out that there were only four extended families in the world who suffer from this condition. The odds of coming across one of them is greater than 1 in 3,000,000. And, if you did come across one, it would be easy to verify his or her identify.

In short, there is no debate. A DOJ background check is superior. Furthermore, a fingerprinted background check is a standard used: by the police everywhere, the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, banks, finance companies, collection agencies, DMVs, trucking companies, municipalities, the Federal government, limo services and, yes, taxicab companies.

Therefore, requiring the same standard back ground checks of VCTCs is not an onerous burden designed to fight "innovation" like the they claim it is. It's merely business as usual – for anyone concerned with the public's safety. The cost runs $50 for the fingerprinting plus a $25 processing fee for the DOJ.

Ms. Zafar has heard these arguments at least three times before and could have looked up the pricing herself in less than 5 minutes.

But Ms. Zafar's stupefaction goes beyond even this. During a public debate with director Chris Hayashi, Ms. Zafar called Ms. Hayashi a "fear-monger" for mentioning the inadequacies of TNC background checks and insurance. This was about 6 weeks before an Uber driver killed Sophia Liu.

The Driver, Syed Muzaffar, had been convicted of reckless driving 10 years before. This fact did not turn up on Uber's background check but would have if the check had conducted by the DOJ.

I guess I'll have to spell this out for Ms. Zafar and apparently everyone else at CPUC.

If Uber had run a DOJ background check with fingerprints Sophia Liu almost certainly would still be alive.

How the CPUC and the California state Legislature could allow the inadequate and dangerous background checks used by the VCTCs to continue goes beyond rational explanation. How many people are going to have to die before the CPUC understand that the purpose of regulation is to protect public safety not maximize the profits of venture capitalists?

For more on CPUC bias I'm adding this video from John Han.

I'd like to note that it's legal for taxis to park in the bus and bicycle zones and that fees and taxes on the taxicab business pays for the marking on city streets. The VCTCs pay no taxes or fees to use San Francisco's streets. As for all the "young people" who show up at the CPUC – most of them work for the  Uber, Lyft and sidecar and were sent to the meetings by management. A fact that an old profession politicain like Peevey should certainly realize.


  1. For more on background checks see

  2. We are being denied our rights of participation through due process. Our
    representatives, including even State appointed representatives from
    offices the CPUC does not want to allow us to participate,

    Though the other State offices are slow to respond, an important aspect of
    this whole situation is that the various State offices do not, in fact,
    agree with one another about what should, or even can, be done by the
    CPUC. It would perhaps be useful to know more about the opinion the
    State Auditor reached, that the CPUC has no enforcement capacity. These
    people are holding court only because their colleagues have allowed their
    play-acting to continue and be taken seriously.

    The proper political direction of things is obvious: the CPUC cannot
    enforce what little regulation is was given, so the enforcement capacity
    should be taken away from it, and assigned to local jurisdictions. The
    local transit industry is an obvious jurisdiction of local authorities.
    The bandits are using technology to force a national-level response, and
    since only the bandits are organized for that, the entire nation is
    threatened by one industry, which has the (literal) mobility to transform
    the whole society through the syzygy of automobiles and advanced radio

    I am again reminded of the similarity between what we are witnessing and
    the World War II parallel situation, in which the German navy was lording
    it over the seas through the syzygy between ships and advanced encrypted
    radio communications through the use of the Enigma device.

    One of the many absurdities of Zafar's verbiage is that background checks
    can be done online.

    An especially well written post, Ed, thank you, yet again.

    Christopher Fulkerson

  3. I guess this is how they do things in Afghanistan.

    1. This is how they do things in a lot of places. This is not how they are supposed to do them here.