Monday, November 16, 2015

Will Uber take our city for a ride?

MY CONCERN is that Uber is a $50 billion company that allegedly cheats drivers, overcharges customers at peak times with time of day pricing, and lacks adequate liability insurance, providing insurance from a Bermuda company that provides insurance only when there is a fare, not while coming, going or waiting. The Federal Trade Commission must investigate Uber pursuant to Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914 (unfair and deceptive trade practices). Commissioner TODD NEVILLE's attempt to delay action pending state legislation being considered is hubris -- laws are being broken now, and our City has a legal duty to investigate, not equivocate. Enough being doormats for special interests.
Checker Cab is a Jacksonville company with low-quality vehicles, but Eco-Ride and other local companies provide good service.
Their drivers deserve a living wage without endorsing what Justice Brandeis called "The race to the bottom."
Uber must be regulated like anyone else -- being a multinational corporation does not exempt it from compliance with our laws.

Perspective; Steve Cottrell: Will Uber take our city for a ride?
Posted: November 15, 2015 - 11:47pm | Updated: November 16, 2015 - 8:55am

Public Occurrences
Win some, lose some.

I enthusiastically supported the recent 1/2-cent sales tax increase for St. Johns County schools. Happy to see it was approved 61 percent to 39 percent — an overwhelming percentage for a self-imposed tax measure. (Well, at least an overwhelming percentage of those who bothered to vote).

I enthusiastically opposed the silly, ill-conceived decorum rules approved by the St. Augustine City Commission last week. The implementing resolution was approved 5-0, with the mayor seeming to apologize for her vote.

She initially offered a thoughtful voice of opposition, explaining why the resolution was unnecessary, then turned around and voted for it “out of respect” for her fellow commissioners, she said. Supporting something she strongly opposed seemed a bit odd, but a lot of things that happen at City Hall seem odd to me.

So what’s next?

It looks like Uber taxi service will be the next challenge for the city commission to deal with. And when it’s discussed at a public meeting next month, I hope commissioners do what is right regarding the unregulated vehicle-for-hire service.

Uber — based in San Francisco and in business for only five years — has a value in excess of $50 billion, with unregulated Uber drivers operating their personal vehicles in over 60 countries and more than 300 cities worldwide.

Based on what a handful of local taxi drivers told city commissioners during the public comments portion of last Monday night’s meeting, it seems the ridesharing juggernaut Uber has found its way to St. Augustine. Not surprising, considering Uber already covers 82 percent of Florida.

Naturally, our local taxi companies and drivers are concerned. And I don’t blame them.

Uber drivers are able to avoid the considerable cost of operating a licensed, regulated taxi and, in doing so, have a huge competitive advantage.

What they do is use their personal vehicle to transport people, based on requests that come via the popular Uber smartphone application.

Not the kind of techie gizmo I would use, but millions of people obviously love the service.

In December the city commission will be asked to consider what changes, if any, should be made to current St. Augustine taxi regulations.

They will likely get an earful from local taxi drivers and taxi company owners. (Sure hope no one violates the new decorum rules. Heaven forbid).

How does a city commission in a small town like St. Augustine tell Uber that they must adhere to our taxi regulations or else not operate here?

They do it by showing some David-like backbone and standing up to the $50 billion Goliath.

In Collier County, the issue was recently resolved by simply rescinding all taxi regulations. As the Naples daily newspaper reported Oct. 27, “Essentially, anyone with a driver’s license will be able to operate a car-for-hire in Collier County.”

County commissioners claimed they didn’t have the financial resources or personnel to enforce or monitor any ordinance aimed at regulating Uber, so they decided to totally deregulate the taxi industry.

A coward’s way out, as far as I’m concerned.

Lee County commissioners, however, decided to face the issue head-on. Earlier this year, Lee County — which adjoins Collier County to the north — amended its vehicle-for-hire ordinance to ensure that Uber, Lyft and other ridesharing companies meet the same requirements as those imposed on traditional taxi companies.

That means criminal background checks, periodic vehicle inspections, adequate insurance, equitable fares and other requirements as established by county commissioners, not by Uber.

Come December, our city commission will apparently have an opportunity to consider three options:

■ Amend the existing taxi ordinance and regulate 21st century ridesharing companies.

■ Make exceptions for Uber, Lyft and others.

■ Toss the existing St. Augustine ordinance in the trash bin and let the marketplace take over.

Uber representatives will no doubt offer city commissioners convincing reasons why their client should be treated differently from traditional taxi companies.

From where I sit, however, I believe the city commission should follow the lead of Lee County.

Our commissioners need to confront the $50 billion behemoth and its well-paid public relations staff and create a level playing field for everyone in the vehicle-for-hire business.

Our local taxi companies — and drivers — deserve no less.

Comments (7)
HappyKitty 11/16/15 - 08:50 am 50If there was no space in the
If there was no space in the market place, Uber wouldn't exist.
Taxicabs as a rule are pretty much always late, they are dirty, they stink , the drivers look like tweakers (look it up), and they drive like they are fleeing the scene of a crime.
They are also very expensive.
I travel a lot and use a lot of taxi cabs all over the country.

I recently started using Uber, and this is what I get: a driver within 5 minutes who is clean, courteous, well groomed, a safe driver and an affordable ride.

A driver who does not expect a tip on top of the ridiculous fees, and the ease of not having to carry cash.

For the record, I always tip my driver, and the tip is received graciously with a thank you instead being expected.

So the taxi industry needs to quit whining and clean up it's act. When a taxi company can offer me the same experience as Uber, I'll take a taxicab.

So Mr. Cottrell, instead of championing a substandard industry that wants to keep it's business by crying to mama that it's not fair, why don't you just tell them to up their game?

Firstcoaster 11/16/15 - 09:15 am 40Mr. Cottrell
who is a former California small town mayor/councilman obviously feels that government is the solution, not the problem.

Uber and similar services create needed competition which will either force the local legacy taxi companies to clean up their act or close for good.

Government hasn't done a darn thing to improve on the substandard services provided by the legacy taxi companies. "Annual inspections, licensing, bla bla bla."

Uber internally regulates their drivers with background checks, and provides $1,000,000 of commercial insurance, all without government oversight. All drivers are also rated by their customers. If local taxi drivers and their cars were rated by their customers they wouldn't have any customers.

Taxi regulations have created more government bureaucracy and put more people on the public payroll, but that's about all.

Competition is the best regulator, not our intrusive government bureaucrats.

Good on Collier County - they get it.

Nigel 11/16/15 - 10:00 am 31Times a changin'
There was a time when the Taxi industry needed regulation for public safety reasons. Think about it, getting into a car with a complete stranger, in a unfamiliar city. The public would have no way to know if drivers were legit.

That time however has come and gone. With Uber's innovation and leveraging of information technology the free market can regulate this industry without government intervention.

Time to do away with those relic government regulations that are no longer needed and are at this point counter productive.

JoeJoe 11/16/15 - 10:00 am 31Cottrell is a lifelong government drone
Firstcoaster nailed it, all the government red tape in place has done NOTHING to improve the local taxi industry, it has just collected some money for them to spend.

sponger2 11/16/15 - 11:20 am 21Public relations staff?
Look to the tax that was voted in by 61% of the 21% that showed up. The PAC was a public relations juggernaut that targeted the "I just moved here for the schools" crowd, holding a special election in an off year, and crying that little Marvin wouldn't learn his letters unless we emptied our pockets some more. All for the real beneficiaries, the developers who's march upon our county will remain unabated. And you want to go after something that is actually an improvement? Typical. That's probably because you haven't found a way to get into their pockets yet.

Firstcoaster 11/16/15 - 11:50 am 40"...create a level playing field..."
That must mean to lower Uber's great customer service to match the substandard service provided by taxis, kind of like "dumbing down." Got it.

Jason Hamilton 11/16/15 - 01:54 pm 20A*s, grass, or gas
People have been car pooling, hoping rides, hitch-hiking or sharing a car for a long time. Before everyone gets all Hinny-Penny over a new fad we might need to just take a breath first. Look at slap bracelets, Bennie babies, MySpace, and Snake Oil. Here today, gone tomorrow. Perhaps we should explore why Uber is so popular instead of crying like a spoiled child who did not get a toy from Target. Smart people in the taxi business could use the info to improve/update their own taxi service. People have been sharing rides for ever, so nothing has changed. Instead of crying over someone else getting a slice of cake make changes in yourself so you can get an even bigger slice of cake. If someone is taking money out of your pocket it is because you have allowed them the opportunity to do so. Tighten up your taxi service, make it even more attractive than Uber, and earn your business back yourself. Stop worrying about what everyone else is doing and focus on what YOU are doing.

1 comment:

the1chryslerguy said...

My experience with Ubers are that they are prompt, reliable, courteus, clean, and take the quickest route to my destination at about half the price of a regular cab. We all complain that government interfers with our lives, why is the city/county interferring? If its the safety of the vehicles that they are worried about then institute mandatory inspections for all vehicles, after all cabs and uber are a tiny fraction of all the vehicles on the road, I'm sure that the majority of the vehicles are a greater number of unsafe vehicles then the tiny number that represent cabs and uber drivers,