Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Sunil Paul, John Zimmer and the Art of the Lie

While Sunil Paul (photo, left) certainly deserves credit for creating the original lies, imaginary factoids and false advertising that helped peddle his product to a misinformed public, it would be remiss of me not to give Lyft President John Zimmer (photo, below) his share of the credit for fraudulent marketing – especially in light of the fact that Zimmer appears to be succeeding where Paul failed.

Indeed, it's hard to draw a precise line where one high-tech shyster starts and the other leaves off. If one of them came up with new scam, the other would soon borrow and use it himself. In the end, they both have imperiled the public with similar bogus claims.

Paul rightly takes the credit for:
  • spuriously using the word "rideshare" to describe his faux taxi service.
  • falsely calling Sidecar's fares "donations" then blackballing any passenger that didn't donate.
  • being among the first to redefine a "sharing community" as being an anonymous group where one person keeps all the profits while others in the community take all the risks and pay all the bills.
  • Inspecting vehicles to be used as Sidecars by having the new drivers upload a photo of their vehicle.
  • taking the lead in Greenwashing by claiming that putting out thousands of taxicabs with no emission controls would help reduce green house gases.
  • creating a smokescreen (deliberate bad pun) by joining numerous environmental organizations to hide the fact that his company was a major polluter.
  • telling the local mainstream media's "journalists" that SideCar carried a "Million Dollar Guarantee" so that these dedicated, in-depth "investigators" wouldn't bother to investigate and thus discover that Sidecar actually carried no insurance at all.
  • telling his own drivers that they didn't need to carry commercial insurance on their own SideCar vehicles which meant that they would be uninsured in an accident – as of course would their customers. 
John Zimmer aped most of Sunil's spins and added a few twists of his own.

1. Zimmer took the creative lead away from Paul in the field of misrepresentation by calling his company's insurance "proprietary" because it was so "original" (a ploy later imitated by Paul) and by refusing to show the policy even to the drivers and customers that were supposed to be covered by it. 
  • When I told this to an insurance agent, he couldn't stop laughing for a very long time.
  • After being accepted as a driver for Lyft, I kept asking to see the insurance policy that was supposed to be covering me. When I emailed Zimmer my request, I was immediately shunned by and dropped from the Lyft community. 
  • Zimmer, like Paul, told his drivers that non-commercial insurance was all they needed which meant that were not covered at all when they drove for Lyft.
  • Although Lyft was eventually forced to carry insurance by regulatory bodies after being exposed by the insurance industry and writers like myself, their customers remain badly covered compared to passengers in taxicabs and other commercial transportation vehicles. Pedestrians, bicyclists and riders in other vehicles are frequently not covered by the policies of either Lyft or their drivers.
  • Both drivers and customers sign a hidden waiver of liability in case of negligence that could be (and probably is) taken to mean that nobody is really insured. 
  • Despite this (or perhaps because of it), President Zimmer continues to brag about the superiority of Lyft's insurance.
2. John Zimmer has taken Sunil Paul's environmental double-speak to new level.
  • As he keeps putting thousands more faux taxis and pseudo micro-buses (Lyft Line) on the streets, he keeps claiming that he's doing so to save the environment.
  • When Lyft dumped a couple thousand vehicles into New York City, Zimmer scoffed at the idea that this would congest and pollute the town by pointing to Lyft's success in curing the environment problems in San Francisco.
  • Some success! Since Lyft and fellow fake cab companies came to San Francisco in 2012, the city has become the 2nd most congested and 7th most polluted area in the country
  • In 2012 San Francisco wasn't even ranked among the top 25 most polluted cities.
  • After the recent merger with GM which will clearly put tens of thousands more cars on the streets, Zimmer said that "eventually" the merger would take vehicles off the street. When? 2116?
  • Oh – yes. Lyft and Uber have launched smear campaigns against officials who have attempted to limit the number of their vehicles – a regulation that actually could help reduce green house gases.
  • And, of course, Lyft does not require its drivers to use hybrids or low emission vehicles.
3. It's when comes to fingerprinting, however, that Zimmer reaches the heights of utter absurdity.

Simply put, fingerprinting is the most effective, easy way to establish that a person is who he or she says he or she is. The method is used by every intelligence service and every country in the world. To quote from INTERPOL"Since a person’s fingerprints are unique and do not change during the course of their life, they can be used to quickly and efficiently confirm or disprove a person’s identity ..."

Your passport has your fingerprints on it – not your social security or driver's license number number, not your health club ID. All that can be faked. 

The superiority of fingerprinting as a form of identification is not a subject for debate. Without it, there can be no real background check because you can't be certain of the identity of the person in question.

Nonetheless, Zimmer and his co-conspirators never stop their attacks on fingerprinting. The justifications for Lyft's refusal to protect the public from convicted rapists and other felons range from the ridiculous to the preposterous. The company's think tank has come up with at least a dozen of these rationalizations. Here are a few of my favorites:
  1. Zimmer has claimed that fingerprinting was inaccurate because some people don't have fingerprints. While true, the disease only exists in a few extended European families and the odds of having it are about one in three million.
  2. Zimmer has claimed that fingerprinting is racist. This from a company whose drivers are predominately white – certainly compared to taxi drivers that are 80% people of color who have passed fingerprinting tests. The claim itself sounds racist – as if all people of color have criminal records.
  3. Lyft general council Kristin Svercheck says that there is no proof that Lyft and Uber's "background checks are ineffective". Right – all we have for evidence is an endless list of accidents, assaults and rapes
  4. The corollary of this is the claim that criminal background checks do not predict behavior. This runs contrary to an in-dept study conducted in three different countries by an international panel of criminologists who state, "A person’s criminal history record is a good predictor of his or her future criminal behavior."
Lyft's latest trick is to attack FBI background checks along with background check companies like TrustLine and Live scan with bogus comparisons to supposedly superior privately administered background checks based on Social Security Numbers instead of fingerprints.

Lyft is so set against fingerprinting that they have refused to operate in cities like Houston that pass laws requiring fingerprinting without mentioning why Houston insists on the requirement.

This is a clear statement of how much profit the venture capitalized corporations must be making by not protecting the public in the way that taxicab companies do.

The cost of doing a fingerprinted background check is minimal – about $50 – so that isn't a major factor. Instead the two main reasons why Lyft is against spending this pittance to protect the public are:
  1. Fingerprinting would slow down the hiring process which means that it would take longer to put a driver behind the wheel – meaning that it would take longer for Lyft to start getting its 20% from every ride.
  2. Fingerprinting would eliminate convicted felons from Lyft's driving community pool.

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