Hailing the First Amendment

By Don McCurdy

If you understand the basics

In the process of doing my homework I came across an article about the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission getting overruled by a federal judge over an advertising ban. The article started with "Hailing the First Amendment," which you would think meant the writer had a clue what a hail is.

Not so, as the writer uses the term "street-hale" (hail) several times in the piece. The writer also further reports that "companies may own the vehicles their employees drive," which may not be the case since many of the drivers in question are independent contractors.

Words have meaning, and employee is a legal dogfight the owners of taxicab companies have fought for decades. I'm not an "expert" on the industry, as evidenced by my
lack of knowledge about what a street-hale is. Hey, it got past spell checker.

Cat herders wanted.

It has been reported that the city of Seattle decided that it would be a good idea if Uber and taxicab drivers could unionize so they passed a law saying it was okay. Say what? The city wanted drivers to be able to collective bargain with companies on various issues, including price and safety. Well, the Chamber of Commerce decided to sue.

I won't go into the legal aspects of the case since I'm not a lawyer, however, it seemed like the Chamber was talking out of both sides of its mouth. I will share my experience with taxicab drivers organizing.

In Austin, Texas, the drivers wanted to form a union and came up with the Austin Taxi Driver's League. Members were predominately owner operators and at the time I wasn't one. They never organized beyond a few disgruntled hippies moaning about "the man."

Next was the Austin Taxi Association which I joined and was elected president. We lobbied the city to pass an ordinance mandating that a percentage of vehicles had to be owner operator. The companies created shell companies to "own" the cabs so they had all of the "owner operator" cabs they needed.

The third time the Taxi Association contacted the Communications Workers Union the Union abandoned them when the union figured out that the union wouldn't make enough in dues to make organizing worthwhile.

The fourth time the attempt to unionize was made I was in management of one of the companies and my boss asked what we should do about the drivers organizing a union.
I said "nothing."

The "union" called a strike and went to the park to celebrate their shutting down the company. Well, not quite. It seemed that drivers that were not part of the union took up the slack and had a great day.

What I learned about independent contractor drivers is that they're just that, independent.

Maybe Seattle will be different. Maybe the New York Taxi Workers Alliance will someday rise up and be a political force and have Uber thrown out of the city. Maybe, just maybe, someday herding cats will be easier.

You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.

A recent opinion piece in the Wilson Times of Wilson North Carolina lamented the loss of one of their two taxicab companies due to financial distress caused by city taxicab regulations. The city's code is only 31 pages. Imagine how wonderful it would be if it was like some larger cities.

There were two quotes that leaped off the page at me, one I believed profound and the other hilarious.

The first "rampant over regulation of private taxi services led to the rise of the ridesharing apps like Uber and Lyft," demonstrates that the issue of regulations is stifling taxi companies ability to not just compete, but to survive.

The second quote refers to shared ride drivers, "the amateur drivers don't need a pricey medallion and since the companies that provide them with passengers aren't technically their employers, many cities find them too slippery to regulate."

I have to wonder if former Uber President Kalanick told his crew right off that they needed to be "too slippery to regulate?"

The piece did quote the price of a New York City medallion at $750,000 in 2016 which would have to qualify as the dreamer price in 2018, or, perhaps, the City of New York's dreamer price. Gee, I hope nobody thinks I'm a racist because I think that Americans are dreamers too.

Tale of two philosophies.

Wisconsin is reported to be considering "deregulating" the taxicab industry. "Deregulation" being a term that is more misunderstood than AR-15.

The proposal from Representative Dan Knodl has a stated goal of decreasing regulations, increasing competition and leveling the old playing field.

Representative Lisa Subeck is reported to be lamenting the idea that the level of regulation on taxicabs would be reduced to the level of regulation of Transportation Network Companies. The entire discussion appears to be a microcosm of the battle raging throughout the country, more or less government controlled.

Being a mostly libertarian capitalist, I believe that less government regulation allows companies to cater to the needs of their customers, rather than to the rules of their government. While regulators are generally well meaning, their ideas do not always promote better service nor customer safety.

Rather than allow companies to set their own fares and have night "surge pricing" cities choose to mandate the price and 24 hour service. For the country, the regulatory pendulum is swinging back toward less, and the bureaucracies nationwide are screaming out their agony.

One of the unintended consequences of well meaning regulation is expense. There is little doubt that part of the current economic boom is the diminishing of government regulations.

Brought to the state and local level, the reduction of regulations in the taxicab industry could easily have a profound effect on the options available for riders. Or we can stick to the one size fits all taxi industry and watch it sink into history at the hands of less regulated competitors.

Shocking, just shocking.

Reports are that minors, yes, minors are riding unescorted in Uber and Lyft vehicles. And? Carrying unaccompanied minors used to be standard fare for taxicabs when I drove. We had customers whose children we picked up every day and took them to their after school functions or home.

I waited in line with the rest of the parents and everybody at the school knew who I was there to pick up. What's the big deal? Well, it's the children. And? Well, Uber and Lyft have policies against minors riding unescorted.

Many taxicab drivers don't like carrying children with or without their parents. There are cities that don't allow minors to ride unescorted. It would seem to me that there is a huge demand for transportation out there that is not being served.

Are our Uber, Lyft and taxicab drivers so dangerous that they can't be trusted with 3 fifteen year olds? What level of training, background checks and whatever would it take before our kids could be considered safe with drivers?

In Austin, the metropolitan transit authority, Capital Metro, developed a zone based door to door service called Teleride. I lived in one of the test zones for the Teleride program which was free for the first year. Our company won the contract for the service.

I was discussing it with my family at dinner the night before the program started. It turned out that my kids told all of their friends and near every kid in the neighborhood to utilize the service to visit their friends, the swimming pool, the movies or whatever.

The local kids were the driving force behind the success of the Teleride program. Kids need transportation and sometimes Mom has to work. Who fills this need?

How much?

It's being reported that MIT has investigated the "rideshare" industry and found that Uber drivers are making a whopping $3.37 an hour when considering the various expenses drivers have versus their income.

They further report that 30% of their drivers are not turning a profit at all. Tax wise the study states that drivers taking the standard mileage deductions are deducting more than they're taking in.

Uber's new kinder, gentler CEO tweeted out some insults about the study and Uber claims the study is flawed. I would have to think that if you could make triple the amount working at Walmart then more drivers would leave the industry. I don't know what the truth is about how much Uber drivers make, but I doubt it's really $3.37.

If you have any comments regarding this or any of my articles please feel free to contact me at: - dmc



















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