I run a university. I’m also an Uber driver.
July 29, 2015 9:58 AM   Subscribe

Lawrence Schall, the President of Oglethorpe University, decided to learn more about Uber by becoming a driver in his free time. He writes: "I wanted to understand the sharing economy. Instead, I got schooled in the failures of Atlanta's public transit system. . . . I assumed the people who used Uber fell into three basic categories: young people (including lots of students at my own university) responsibly avoiding drinking and driving on nights out, business people who had switched to Uber for a faster response and lower cost, and folks like me who occasionally used Uber to avoid the hassles of traffic, parking or just because it’s the cool new thing to do. Yet in my dozen-plus Uber forays thus far, I’ve encountered no one who fits those categories."

"Instead, with the exception of my first rider (who turned out to be one of my students), my riders have been on their way to work or to a vital appointments. Most often, my rides have been to and from the MARTA train station — about a $5 fare to a $2.50 ride on Atlanta’s meager public transportation system. Instead of getting a glimpse into the new economy, I was getting full exposure to the burdens of the old economy — specifically, how hard it is for regular working people to make it from their home or apartment to a job every day."

When public transportation fails to take people where they need to go, the result is often users turning to Uber, as a recent NYT OpEd points out. But where does that leave riders who are increasingly discovering that Uber's commitment to accessibility is less than certain?

Blind Wisc. man says Uber refused seeing-eye dog
"David Tolmie said his Uber driver turned him away last Thursday because the driver did not want the dog, Divit, to scratch his leather seats, NBC station WMTV reported."

Uber and the lawlessness of 'sharing economy' corporates
"Consistently, these nullifying companies claim they are striking a blow against regulations they consider “out-of-date” or “anti-innovation”. Their major innovation, however, is strategic and manipulative, and it’s meant to undermine local needs and effective governance. . . . Uber has ignored advocates for the blind, and other disabled persons, when they claim Uber’s drivers discriminate against them. In response to a lawsuit by the National Federation of the Blind, Uber bluntly asserts that it’s merely a communication platform, not the type of employer meant to be covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Some judges and regulators accept that reasoning; others reject it. But the larger lesson is clear: Uber’s aggressive efforts to avoid or evade disability laws are nothing less than a form of corporate nullification, as menacing to the rule of law as defiance of civil rights laws in the days after courts ruled against racial segregation in the US."

Disability Rights Advocates Call Out Uber Over Accessibility Issues
"Uber still has a long way to go in order to make its transportation network fully accessible to New Yorkers in wheelchairs, a disability rights organization said ahead of Sunday's 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The United Spinal Association last week released a television ad and a series of mailers criticizing Uber in the midst of tense negotiations between the city and the app ahead of a City Council vote concerning whether the service would face an expansion cap in New York. “I’m so shocked about how much discrimination there is in New York City,” Dustin Jones, a disability rights advocate, says in the video. “Getting around the city in a wheelchair is hard. People look the other way.”"
CA regulator fines Uber subsidiary $7.3 million for shirking reporting rules
“An administrative law judge ruled against the Uber subsidiary for failing to report how many UberX users requested accessible vehicles, as well as how many accessible rides UberX was able to provide."
posted by a fiendish thingy (115 comments total) 54 users marked this as a favorite
 
When a friend of mine was a taxi driver for a while in a small northern New York city, he said he realized that in NYC, rich people ride in taxis; elsewhere poor people ride in taxis.
posted by OmieWise at 10:03 AM on July 29, 2015 [47 favorites]


All of this is very interesting and I'm looking forward to reading the articles, but the first thing that jumps out at me as a new faculty member is that the president of a university has free time??
posted by a car full of lions at 10:04 AM on July 29, 2015 [24 favorites]


Speaking as a former Atlantan, I only know about a handful of friends who actually use MARTA (buses or train) as transport; everyone else just has a car. One of those MARTA-using friends does use Uber occasionally and really enjoys it.

Atlanta is terribly laid-out if you live in the suburbs and work intown. Either you deal with commuter traffic or a train system that really doesn't go anywhere useful except the airport (imho).
posted by Kitteh at 10:07 AM on July 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


The podcast 'Theory of Everything' on Radiotopia just did a great series on the "sharing economy" called Instaserfs. Worth a listen.
posted by rock swoon has no past at 10:09 AM on July 29, 2015 [15 favorites]


a car full of lions, FTA: "I began this social experiment understanding my own limitations. While half of all Uber drivers drive less than 15 hours a week, I knew I’d manage a whole lot less. I am not giving up my day job as university president, so my Uber outings must be on weekends, squeezed in over lunch, or before or after work. I contribute any fares I make, minus Uber’s 20 percent cut, to my university’s scholarship fund. And having begun this experiment mid-summer, I have just six weeks before the start of school — not nearly enough time to understand the workings of an entire industry."
posted by msbubbaclees at 10:11 AM on July 29, 2015 [11 favorites]


I remember asking locals about why they didn't use or mention MARTA. Most cited the reason Kitteh gave, about it not connecting well to much of the city.
One grinned and replied, "Don't you know that 'MARTA' stands for? Moving Africans Right Through Atlanta.'"
posted by doctornemo at 10:17 AM on July 29, 2015 [12 favorites]


The Ars Technica link about Uber being fined in California has been all over my social media - it's a relief to a lot of us to see the state finally try to hold Uber accountable for some of their bullshit.

What the article doesn't cover... Uber has a WAV (wheelchair accessible vehicle) program in SF, and one or two other big cities. But, you know, I've never been able to get one; the app on my phone alway has this sad NO VEHICLES AVAILABLE message. (Nor do I know *anyone* who has ridden in or seen one.)

They also have a program called UberASSIST, which is supposed to be drivers who are specially trained to help people with disabilities and elderly people. I hear from a driver who's had the training that it's just a brief video, though. About the sort of thing all taxi drivers are already supposed to do - for example, not deny service to someone with a folding wheelchair that fits in the trunk.

So as far as I'm concerned, Uber is all about big splashy PR moves in bad faith to convince the general public that they care... followed by making a shitton of money by not providing even taxi-level service. (This is ... a very low bar.)
posted by spaceman_spiff at 10:23 AM on July 29, 2015 [31 favorites]


The podcast 'Theory of Everything' on Radiotopia just did a great series on the "sharing economy" called Instaserfs. Worth a listen.

Instaserfs, I of III, II of III, and III of III.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:25 AM on July 29, 2015 [24 favorites]


I rode MARTA while working co-op jobs in college (GA Tech). One of those jobs was at an IBM location in the northern part of the city. I'd walk to the train station, take the train two stops, then get on a special chartered bus -- I think IBM or the office building chartered it, which was nice. The difference in experience between the train and other buses and the chartered bus was significant, but even on the chartered bus, I, as a college student putting myself through school, felt very different from the vast majority of other riders.
posted by amtho at 10:25 AM on July 29, 2015


The fact was, though that MARTA didn't go to this important employment area of the city. The chartered bus (like a Greyhound bus) was needed.
posted by amtho at 10:26 AM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


At first, I didn't use Uber (in San Francisco) because I didn't have a smartphone. Then I got a smartphone, but I still didn't use Uber because I was cheap. That excuse started to feel a little silly when I'd take the bus home after spending $25 on two cocktails, so I refined it: I'm willing to pay for pleasure, but not for convenience. Plus I've heard nothing but bad things about Uber's executives and business practices. Blah blah blah.

I'm getting to a point where it's really hard to justify a near two-hour bus journey home from the Mission versus a $7 UberPool, though, and I think I've finally pinpointed the real reason for my reluctance to Uber: As a middle-class(ish) person, I feel almost a duty to keep taking public transit, to not join the white flight or whatever you want to call it to Uber and other ridesharing services and leave public transit to SF's poorest, most vulnerable residents. I know this is ridiculous, that a single twentysomething professional rider is not going to be able to hold Muni accountable for its failures, but... I just can't do it.
posted by sunset in snow country at 10:31 AM on July 29, 2015 [103 favorites]


Yeah, there is a shit ton of racism baked into people's perceptions of MARTA. Even people who aren't from Atlanta know that shitty comment when they visit. My best friend--who is from the DC region originally--would get annoyed when other white people would seek her out to sit next to her rather any black passenger on the train.
posted by Kitteh at 10:33 AM on July 29, 2015 [10 favorites]


Thanks for posting this. Being punctual while poor is extremely expensive, whether the currency ends up being time or money.
posted by threeants at 10:35 AM on July 29, 2015 [97 favorites]


I lived in Atlanta as a transit-dependent commuter while I was a student and working part-time at a transportation advocacy org (so transit challenges were understood). It was time-consuming but doable-- however, I simply can't imagine the incredible hardship faced by the many, many people who depend on MARTA to get to low-wage jobs where they have little power or flexibility.
posted by threeants at 10:40 AM on July 29, 2015 [7 favorites]


Yes, lack of reliable transportation is just one more way that the cycle of poverty spirals and crushes people.

Think about it like this:
What happens if you can't make it to your job? You're fired.
... if you can't make it to a grocery store? You buy lower quality, likely junk food, at small markets or gas stations for higher prices.
...if you can't get your kids to childcare/school regularly?

And on, and on. Meanwhile, people have to use alternate methods to do these mundane things that "middle class" people don't have to consider AT ALL. I never have to wonder how I'm going to get to work or to the grocery store.

This is a large reason why poverty social circles are so big on favors and relationships. You need them to survive.

So next time you hear someone say something stupid like poor people should just work harder, consider how it is often LITERALLY IMPOSSIBLE for them to squeeze more work into a life that is already far too short on time due to all of the extra hoops they have to jump through because our country can't build a reliable and efficient public transit system that services who it needs to service.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 10:41 AM on July 29, 2015 [81 favorites]


> I'm getting to a point where it's really hard to justify a near two-hour bus journey home from the Mission

You can use Flywheel, which is an app that hails regular cabs, for those times when Muni just won't do it. We love it.
posted by rtha at 10:45 AM on July 29, 2015 [10 favorites]


One of the things I've been thinking for a while is that the ride service Uber provides would be a natural fit for a local department of transportation. It'd be a publicly accountable (and therefore, hopefully, responsive to accessibility and labor issues), it wouldn't require a heavy capital investment, and the data alone would help DOTs plan the rest of their service infrastructure better.

Don't ban 'em, beat 'em.
posted by weston at 10:45 AM on July 29, 2015 [20 favorites]


Here in Atlanta we have a lot of interesting things happening around transit. The Beltline project is moving forward, which has a transit component to be developed later, but we're now seeing a (pardon the term) hipster movement against it because of gentrification. It's a complex situation, and everyone seems to be resentful of at least parts of what's happening here.
posted by rock swoon has no past at 10:47 AM on July 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


They also have a program called UberASSIST, which is supposed to be drivers who are specially trained to help people with disabilities and elderly people. I hear from a driver who's had the training that it's just a brief video, though.

That's because if Uber did real training, they would would have to admit the drivers are actually employees and they'd have to pay for workers comp and all that good stuff. Well, good stuff for the drivers, not good for Uber and their business plan of serfdom.
posted by sideshow at 10:47 AM on July 29, 2015 [26 favorites]


I used to commute from Candler Park to Buckhead on MARTA, but yeah, good luck if you're in the suburbs
posted by thelonius at 10:52 AM on July 29, 2015


I desperately want him to give the President of Emory University a ride...

..through a fargate.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 10:54 AM on July 29, 2015 [7 favorites]


I remember when the Beltline was just a pipe dream and there was a lot of strident NIMBYism even then. One of my best friends lives in Reynoldstown and is glad to see it finally happening, but his neighbours? A lot of weird gross fear about people from, ahem, less desirable neighbourhoods being able to get around with ease to more affluent ones. I miss Atlanta but there is a lot of everyday racism.
posted by Kitteh at 10:55 AM on July 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


I take Amtrak to Atlanta at least once a year, usually to visit friends and take in a Falcons game. The first time I did so I was astonished to learn that Atlanta's Amtrak station isn't connected to Marta. To get on a Marta train from an Amtrak train... you have to take a bus.

What the hell, Atlanta.

But hey, at least Atlanta has a rudimentary public transit system. Here in Birmingham (where city council member Kim Rafferty can barely waddle out of a press conference as her pockets are so stuffed with bribes from cab companies), unless you live in exactly the right spot and work in a second exactly right spot, there ain't dee-diddley-dick way to get between the two without a car.

I hate Uber's policies, Uber's practices, everything Uber stands for. But when they get to town (which they will, because money is green), I'll use 'em. Dammit.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:56 AM on July 29, 2015 [9 favorites]


The reason I started using Uber was because finding a cab with a working credit card machine is something I've never done in years of business trips. They're all mysteriously broken unless you say "Sorry, I don't have any cash" and hold firm. Then they all start working again. That said I'm leaning more Lyft these days.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 11:00 AM on July 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


I have used MARTA to get from ATL to CDC, Emory, and ACS and back multiple times and found it easy to navigate, cheap, and faster than a taxi. I never felt unsafe or even uncomfortable.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:00 AM on July 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


One of the things I've been thinking for a while is that the ride service Uber provides would be a natural fit for a local department of transportation. It'd be a publicly accountable (and therefore, hopefully, responsive to accessibility and labor issues), it wouldn't require a heavy capital investment, and the data alone would help DOTs plan the rest of their service infrastructure better.

This is (kinda sorta not 100% but close) what para-transit is. However, I suspect Atlanta has either limited or non-existent para-transit, because the number of folks in wheelchairs who appear to be dependent on the bus there based on my observation is orders of magnitude higher than what I've seen in cities (like here in Boston) that I know do have the service.
posted by threeants at 11:03 AM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Atlanta is like every US city not in the North East, it's public transportation system seems more built because of the idea that a city is not important until it has a rail line, rather than based on any semblance of actual usage patterns. St. Louis goes from the airport to the baseball stadium. Miami goes from the airport to the waterfront. LA goes all around, but somehow still misses anyplace anyone needs to go. Atlanta goes from the airport to...random interstate interchanges?
posted by T.D. Strange at 11:06 AM on July 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


I lived in Brooklyn/Queens my entire life. Always just a few blocks from a train station. Stupidly I never learned to drive. Grrrrrr!! We recently moved to NJ and holy fuck am I regretting that. NJ buses have been breaking me down. I never thought there could be something worse than MTA buses but what a spoiled life I was living. In NJ a 10 minute car ride can be an hour trip on the bus (or buses)! So I have been using uber constantly and loving it. It has made a huge difference for me. I'm working on the driving thing at 35 and it is freaking me out but I have to do it.
posted by mokeydraws at 11:09 AM on July 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


Even if federal, state and local governments in the US were able to rein in Uber's abusive behaviors, the company is doing very well in China. It seems inevitable that it will remain an adjunct to public transit, if not subsume it in some locales.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 11:09 AM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have used MARTA to get from ATL to CDC, Emory, and ACS and back multiple times

I don't think there will ever be an Emory or North Decatur station, but, iirc, either the 36 or the 6 bus worked for that from train stations, and it wasn't a long ride.
posted by thelonius at 11:12 AM on July 29, 2015


I hate Uber's policies, Uber's practices, everything Uber stands for. But when they get to town (which they will, because money is green), I'll use 'em. Dammit.

I hate Uber but we still use it because there's just no other choice at times. The transit system here shuts down at midnight and barely runs on weekends or holidays and regular taxis don't actually ever show up.
posted by octothorpe at 11:13 AM on July 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm getting to a point where it's really hard to justify a near two-hour bus journey home from the Mission versus a $7 UberPool, though, and I think I've finally pinpointed the real reason for my reluctance to Uber: As a middle-class(ish) person, I feel almost a duty to keep taking public transit, to not join the white flight or whatever you want to call it to Uber and other ridesharing services and leave public transit to SF's poorest, most vulnerable residents. I know this is ridiculous, that a single twentysomething professional rider is not going to be able to hold Muni accountable for its failures, but... I just can't do it.

Good. No Uber for me, either - not that I'm a big cab user, but when I need transit I either take the bus or kick down for a real cab. For me, not using these sharing economy bullshit impoverishment tools is really foundational. I don't want life to devolve to the point where I'm a flex-time on-demand admin (Adminio!) booked by smart phone for 27.25 hours a week in 45 minute increments, 15 hours of which of which fall between 10pm and 3am, and that's the way we're headed with this nonsense.
posted by Frowner at 11:19 AM on July 29, 2015 [53 favorites]


However, I suspect Atlanta has either limited or non-existent para-transit, because the number of folks in wheelchairs who appear to be dependent on the bus there based on my observation is orders of magnitude higher than what I've seen in cities (like here in Boston) that I know do have the service.

It's the other way around - people generally use paratransit only if they can't use public transit, it is pretty lousy everywhere. You have to call a day ahead, you get a pickup time that may or may not be way different than the time you'd like to go, your ride may be (policy notwithstanding) as much as an hour or two late or no-show, there's no rescheduling if your plans shift.

If you can use the bus, you do. (I don't currently use paratransit, but I have in the past in Boston because weather and the condition of some of the subway stations meant I could do some trips on public transit but not all.)
posted by spaceman_spiff at 11:20 AM on July 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


Just to clarify, I meant the mobility-impaired folks I saw in Atlanta were dependent on the bus specifically as opposed to being able to take advantage of paratransit, not transit-dependent vs. transit choice users.
posted by threeants at 11:23 AM on July 29, 2015


My wife and I took a brief winter vacation to Atlanta a couple winters ago because it was warm and a direct flight from Toronto. We don't drive, and I knew that Atlanta didn't have a stellar transit reputation, but I figured as a worst case scenario we'd just spend a few bucks on a cab.

Taking Marta was fine - seemed reliable and the architecture reminds me of Montreal. The buses were little used even though, or perhaps because, they only seemed to run once an hour down what seemed like major streets. But the cabs were worst of all... impossible to hail, 20 minute waits for taxis called by restaurants, and prices that started with a $2 surcharge just for a second passenger, and a bizarre zone-based pricing system.

Transit notwithstanding, Atlanta is a lovely city with great people and food. But if/when I go back, I'll just take Uber everywhere that I can't get on Marta - I can get a pickup anywhere, know exactly when the car is coming, and be assured of a decent price structure.
posted by Gortuk at 11:38 AM on July 29, 2015


I've been a regular - and in certain years, daily - rider of MARTA for years. The Uber driver experience rings true. Unless you work right downtown, or on top of a stop (like the CDC, Emory, or Perimeter Mall), you are going to have a tough time getting to and from the station. I am lucky enough to be able to afford to live two blocks from a station and currently work at another hub.

Making access even more difficult:

*lack of understandable or clear bus schedules. Ask me about my feelings re: the number 6 "turnaround" bus, which is a bus that actually changes routes halfway through.

*lack of drivers caring about bus routes. Does the number 2 go from North Ave station down Ponce or North? Depends on how the driver feels that day/run/time.

*lack of sidewalks in many places, making the walk to a station or bus stop unpleasant or hazardous.

*random bus route skipping, where the bus just doesn't show up for a while because someone wanted a break.

I ride MARTA just on Fridays mostly now, because being driven through the traffic on a start/stopping bus is preferable to me having to drive myself through start & stop traffic. But they don't make it easy, and there are times when I've shamefully hailed a taxi just because I couldn't deal with the bus that day or they had stranded me again. If MARTA buses could keep anything like a regular schedule, I'd switch to daily, but being that I have places to be *on time*, riding MARTA could potentially cost me a lot more than $2.50 a go.
posted by EinAtlanta at 11:39 AM on July 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


I ride MARTA rail 2-3 times a week from Decatur to downtown, and occasionally to other places like the Woodruff and the Botanical Gardens. Once a month or so, I take the 2 bus up Ponce to Manuel's. It is easy, pleasant, and safe.

However, every weekday, I get in my car and drive 40 minutes to work, because while MARTA goes most places I want to go in my leisure, it does not go outside of DeKalb, Fulton, or (now!) Clayton counties. I could transfer to a Gwinnett Co. bus, but even that would leave me 2 miles short of work. I guess I could take Uber for those last 2 miles...

The reality is MARTA is adequate if you have time and energy for long waits, until you get to where rich people live (i.e., Buckhead) or where the truly poor are increasingly moving, outside of the city. My students use Uber. And I don't blame them. I would love it if I lived in some alternate reality where there was another way to get around suburban Atlanta, but until there is, people take Uber.
posted by hydropsyche at 11:41 AM on July 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


If cabs are unreliable, which they almost always were in SF when I visited last month, and public transit doesn't go where you want it to go, which even in the supposedly transit-heavy Bay Area it often doesn't, Uber rushes into the void. It may be a bullshit impoverishment economy tool, but it's making money hand over fist for a reason.

Yeah, there is a shit ton of racism baked into people's perceptions of MARTA.

There's a shit-ton of racism baked into perceptions of almost every city's transit system you can list. People look down on and refuse to fund public transit for a variety of awful reasons, but this is one of the big unspoken ones. I was not long ago asked for ID and grilled by a cop in my non-affluent but public-transit-unfriendly neighborhood because I was standing on the corner of the highway at 9:30 in the morning waiting for a late bus, apparently because I fit the description of some nearby loiterer or whatever -- but more to the point because I was a white person waiting for a bus and white people (generally) don't do that here unless they're unemployed, just out of jail, in rehab, have had their car repossessed, or are forbidden to drive by court order.

Better public transit here in Nashville can never get off the ground because you can never convince white taxpayers with cars that it won't reach into their pockets to pay for people of color to ride all around the metro area all day looking for drugs or trouble or whatever it is that they think people of color actually do with their days. Those white people sure as hell won't fund it to come through their neighborhoods.

The people I ride with on the bus every day are just trying to get to and from their damn jobs like everyone else.
posted by blucevalo at 11:42 AM on July 29, 2015 [13 favorites]


Does the number 2 go from North Ave station down Ponce or North? Depends on how the driver feels that day/run/time.

My husband was gobsmacked when we picked up the 2 near Ponce and the driver just breezily decided to create his own route instead of the one we assumed it was supposed to go. "Um, excuse me, I think you just passed the stop!" The driver's response was something along the lines of "You want me to drop you off right here? Because I'm not going that way."
posted by Kitteh at 11:48 AM on July 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


OmieWise: "When a friend of mine was a taxi driver for a while in a small northern New York city, he said he realized that in NYC, rich people ride in taxis; elsewhere poor people ride in taxis."

I recently had to abandon my car late at night and take a taxi home (normally if this happened to me, I'd call a friend and ask if they could come get me, but my kids were asleep so my husband couldn't, and it was too late at night to call friends with jobs), and the taxi driver was not doing a very good job hiding his delight that he was driving a white lady from a safe place to a safe neighborhood ... because taxis here are almost exclusively used by a) people going to and from the airport who don't have someone to drop them off; and b) poor people without cars who need to go grocery shopping. You have to book a taxi at least an hour in advance, which is madness to me! Because people don't use them as TAXIS, they use them as pre-planned public transit to get to places transit doesn't go.

I feel like any place you can hail a taxi on the street, like New York or Chicago, taxis are a convenience for people with disposable income to bypass walking or slow/multitransfer transit; any place you have to call the taxi on a phone in advance, it's probably mostly transit for poor people in places with shitty transit. (Leaving aside the airport shuttle function of taxis.)

Calling a cab here is maddening because I've never had one dispatch in less than 45 minutes, but I'm not going to use Uber because I remember what poorly-regulated taxi service is like and OH HEY THERE ARE LAWS FOR A REASON UBER.

qcubed: "a cesspool that puts stickers on Biology textbooks that contain mentions of evolution"

Hey, my uncle was the Cobb County biology teacher who started the whole fiasco by refusing to use a) books without evolution in them and then b) books with stickers on them.

posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:54 AM on July 29, 2015 [19 favorites]


"Good. No Uber for me, either - not that I'm a big cab user, but when I need transit I either take the bus or kick down for a real cab. "

How is Uber different from a "real cab"?
posted by I-baLL at 11:57 AM on July 29, 2015


How is Uber different from a "real cab"?

Difference in NYC at least is that a real cab must have a medallion, which are limited in number. Uber is more like a limo service, prearranged point to point only, and needs only a TLC license. You can hail a cab on the street. You can't hail an uber.

(Though it seems to me that there has to be a legal case somewhere down the road, esp. now as Uber is causing the price of medallions to fall.)

Re MARTA - Atlanta exploded these past thirty years but because of cheap land, it went outwards, not upwards. Mass transit's expensive to put in. Hardly surprising that it hasn't kept up. Another reason to hate urban sprawl.
posted by IndigoJones at 12:08 PM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


I-baLL: "How is Uber different from a "real cab"?"

Well, in Illinois, Uber's drivers don't have livery licenses; the cars don't have livery plates; the company doesn't pay city taxes to run a livery company; the drivers, the cars, and the company are not insured for liability when carrying passenger and (indeed) the drivers are opening themselves up to losing their private insurance by driving passengers for pay; it uses a form of surge pricing that required Chicago to squash the MOB to get rid of it the first time; it discriminates based on race, neighborhood, and disability; the drivers don't have to pass criminal background checks (and, indeed, aren't in the state database as livery drivers!); and Uber refuses responsibility or liability for criminal assaults by drivers against passengers, a very real problem that livery laws deal with.

OTHER THAN THAT THEY'RE TOTALLY EXACTLY THE SAME AS REAL CABS.

I mean, look, Uber saves money on fares by a) using "contractors" rather than employees and b) refusing to abide by basically all legal regulations intended to ensure the safety of passengers and other road users. I'm not saying the taxi market in Illinois couldn't use a little disrupting, but the form of that disrupting shouldn't be "uninsured, unlicensed drivers driving uninspected cars while dodging taxes."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:11 PM on July 29, 2015 [81 favorites]


Uber gets a lot of (very justified) critiques around here, but it really changed life in Atlanta for me and a lot of people I know.

It's not really that Atlanta's public transportation system is so awful (although it is awful-ish), it's more the way the city is laid out. A huge sprawling city with tons of suburbs, whose designers had apparently never heard of a grid. That means the bus routes are very ... specific. The train system is just a giant plus sign. So unless you happen to be going somewhere that's on an established route, it can really take hours to piece together different train and bus rides.

Meanwhile, the cab system is the worst I've ever used anywhere. My impression is that they don't answer numbers that aren't "approved," so if you have a concierge in your condo building, you can get a cab, but if you're just calling from a cellphone, good fucking luck.

One time I didn't have a car, couldn't get a ride, and needed to get to an important appointment. I spent 45 minutes trying to get a hold of the cab company to no avail - they wouldn't pick up. I was literally crying (it was a pretty bad day already). I finally just ended up walking the 3.5 miles.

On the way back I decided to try to take the bus. The temperature had dropped significantly since my walk and I sat at the bus stop in the cold for 40 minutes (bus was very late) shivering and detesting my lot in life.

This is life every day for a lot of people without cars in Atlanta. And it makes people who do have cars loathe to ever not use them because they don't know what will happen. For this reason, I think the drunk driving in ATL was particularly bad. I don't and wouldn't do it ever, but I think for a lot of people the calculus was -- wait an hour for a cab, take transit for 1.5 hours, or get in my car and be home in 25 minutes, ehh, I'll just risk it.

Now those people use Uber and I feel a lot safer being on the roads.

That being said, for the people I know who use Uber a lot, it's part of a larger car-reducetarian lifestyle and it's just one piece, with the other pieces being walking, biking, Marta, or Beltline, as the situation offers.
posted by the turtle's teeth at 12:13 PM on July 29, 2015 [11 favorites]


I-baLL: "How is Uber different from a "real cab"?"

To a New Yorker who doesn't live in Manhattan, it means that I have a reliable way to get home late at night.

One of my colleagues who regularly goes on anti-Uber rants (for totally correct reasons!) made me promise her that I would always try to get at least one yellow cab before using Uber to get to central Brooklyn. After being refused about 20 times in a row ("I can't drive there, my shift is about to end" no matter what time it is), I quit trying. And I'm white. I can only imagine how awesome Uber seems to POC.
posted by overhauser at 12:17 PM on July 29, 2015 [15 favorites]


I have a friend who's one of the software admins for Uber in my city, and we've had our fair share of arguments on Facebook about Uber and the employee / contractor issue.

You know what's been cropping up a lot lately? This really insidious, nonsensical argument that seems to be a popular argument made within Uber, all the way up to Big Travis himself. The argument goes like this:

One of the big markers that the IRS looks for to differentiate employees from contractors is: do they work a set schedule of regular hours? So – Uber can't treat its drivers as employees, because then they wouldn't be able to set their own schedules and have flexibility. Really, Uber is doing them a favor by not making them employees – this way, they get to work whenever they want.

But this is clearly the most egregious nonsense! A fixed schedule is an indication that a worker is an employee and not a contractor; but many, many employees have very flexible schedules and work odd and flexible hours. Being an employee does not preclude these things! If Uber started paying its drivers as employees tomorrow, started giving them health insurance and everything else, they absolutely would not have to force their employees to stick to a particular schedule. In fact, this is how it is with many large employers, like Starbucks and McDonald's – lots of people work part-time, and those are not eligible for health care or benefits, but the ones that work full-time are, and it's dealt with. It works.

There really is no excuse. Uber drivers are employees. This issue annoys the crap out of me because it's ultimately not even Uber's fault, I guess; it's the fault of a crap system that has neglected actually enforcing the law for generations now. It should not be up to the few individual workers who can manage to lawyer up to fix these things. The government should be able to say – "no, these are employees."
posted by koeselitz at 12:30 PM on July 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


One of the things I've been thinking for a while is that the ride service Uber provides would be a natural fit for a local department of transportation.

Or Departments of Health! Access to transportation/public services (like going to the grocery store) is actually a huge predictor of mortality, and I would absolutely love to be able to volunteer to give rides to people who are not able to drive themselves.

One of the biggest barriers to volunteering for most people is that making a commitment for unpaid work on a regular basis is not something many people have time (or energy) for. Imagine if you could login for three hours on a Saturday and help a hearing impaired person go to the bank, help someone who can’t afford a car get groceries at a real grocery store, and take an elderly person no longer allowed to drive to the library. That's the kind of sharing economy I dream about.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 12:32 PM on July 29, 2015 [29 favorites]


For me, not using these sharing economy bullshit impoverishment tools is really foundational. I don't want life to devolve to the point where I'm a flex-time on-demand admin (Adminio!) booked by smart phone for 27.25 hours a week in 45 minute increments, 15 hours of which of which fall between 10pm and 3am, and that's the way we're headed with this nonsense.

Something about the way you phrased this triggered memories about the way scheduling worked when I worked at the Gap in college... eugh. (On preview, koeselitz has also made this connection.) Thanks for the reminder about the sharing-economy nonsense on the other half of the equation. Living in SF, I'm subject to a fair amount of brainwashing about how great Uber is for drivers and how you can make $2000/week or whatever number it is they're touting these days.* (Getting a bit sassy here, but clearly the solution to both the brainwashing and the 2-hour bus ride is just to stop going to the Mission. Ha.)

*Nothing against those people who genuinely do like driving for Uber, I just don't think the systemic effects are good.
posted by sunset in snow country at 12:37 PM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Uber as a general service is great.

Uber has lots of problems that can be fixed by strong and intelligent regulation.

The existing cab/livery regulations resulted in terrible service.

Folks' surprise that a company isn't just following the law out of the goodness of its heart (?) always surprises me. Ever thus, y'all! It's government's job to step in when this happens.

The accessibility issue mentioned in the OP is a prime example: gov't says if you are a 'ridesharing' service then you must have X cars available at any time and X+Y at peak times and you must provide Z level of service and you will report those numbers back to us and we will survey folks also to make sure you're doing what you are supposed to do and if you don't we can stop you from operating in our city.

The strong anti-Uber sentiment is understandable but I think the correct response is regulation and oversight, not the dismantling of what is clearly a needed service.
posted by wemayfreeze at 12:44 PM on July 29, 2015 [14 favorites]


The biggest difference between uber/x and a real cab is that the uber experience is likely to be more convenient, reliable, and possibly cheaper.

It just boggles my mind that people will passionately attack uber/lyft for their business models and actually defend the poor vicitmized medallion taxi system. For all the upright playing by the rules and responsible citizenship our medallion taxi companies provide (ahem), what we seem to get in return is shittier service.
posted by 2N2222 at 12:44 PM on July 29, 2015 [9 favorites]


Ultimately, it really is incredibly simple. Public transport needs to be better and cheaper. That is literally all.

Here in Albuquerque, we have at least half of that. Buses are pretty reliable and regular, and they cost $2 for a full day pass. There are some streets they really need to hit, and don't, but in general it's not terribly difficult to get around. Given that I've never had an Uber arrive here in less than fifteen minutes, it's really hard for me to justify having to pay probably $10 each way when I could be paying $2 instead and get there around the same time anyway.
posted by koeselitz at 12:47 PM on July 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


2N2222: “The biggest difference between uber/x and a real cab is that the uber experience is likely to be more convenient, reliable, and possibly cheaper. It just boggles my mind that people will passionately attack uber/lyft for their business models and actually defend the poor vicitmized medallion taxi system. For all the upright playing by the rules and responsible citizenship our medallion taxi companies provide (ahem), what we seem to get in return is shittier service.”

The nice thing about this comment is that you said absolutely nothing about the people actually driving the cars – which is the crux of the whole issue anyway. "Oh, it's easier!" – what the fuck ever. That doesn't matter. Sorry.
posted by koeselitz at 12:49 PM on July 29, 2015 [7 favorites]


(Also, 2N2222, when people say "Uber drivers are getting shafted," they are not "defending the poor victimized medallion taxi system.")
posted by koeselitz at 12:50 PM on July 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


> It just boggles my mind that people will passionately attack uber/lyft for their business models

It boggles your mind that people object to a business model that says "fuck you you can't regulate me I don't owe you shit" to the municipalities it comes into? Why is that boggle-worthy?
posted by rtha at 12:50 PM on July 29, 2015 [14 favorites]


It just boggles my mind that people will passionately attack uber/lyft for their business models and actually defend the poor vicitmized medallion taxi system.

I don't read every discussion of Uber here, but I have yet to see anyone defending the taxi system with anything more passionate than "Yeah, cabs suck, but..."

For all the upright playing by the rules and responsible citizenship our medallion taxi companies provide (ahem), what we seem to get in return is shittier service.

Perhaps the answer is less unregulated exploitation and more enforced regulation.
posted by Etrigan at 12:53 PM on July 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


I mean: look, no matter how you slice it, you can love Uber or hate Uber or not give a crap about Uber, but one thing you can't really deny is this:

Uber is breaking the laws of the United States by not paying its employees as employees.

This is how things work in the United States: if you work for a company regularly, with an open-ended agreement to continue to do so, are issued instructions from a central authority, and draw a paycheck therefrom, you are an employee.

If we don't like that – if we really think Uber should not have to pay its employees as employees – then that's fine. Change the law. Fix it so they aren't breaking the law. But until we change that, they are breaking the law, and they need to stop breaking the law.
posted by koeselitz at 12:56 PM on July 29, 2015 [12 favorites]


I mean: look, no matter how you slice it, you can love Uber or hate Uber or not give a crap about Uber, but one thing you can't really deny is this:

Uber is breaking the laws of the United States by not paying its employees as employees.

This is how things work in the United States: if you work for a company regularly, with an open-ended agreement to continue to do so, are issued instructions from a central authority, and draw a paycheck therefrom, you are an employee.

If we don't like that – if we really think Uber should not have to pay its employees as employees – then that's fine. Change the law. Fix it so they aren't breaking the law. But until we change that, they are breaking the law, and they need to stop breaking the law.
posted by koeselitz at 3:56 PM on July 29


Okay, I have to take issue with this on several fronts.

1.) How will Goldman Sachs recoup their investment if Uber has to act like every other company? Do you really think it's fair to make the beleaguered investment bank community knock off several basis points over something that doesn't affect them or their children? I mean, gimminy cricket! Those poor guys have been through an awful lot since 2008.

2.) What effect will this have on sharing economy companies in the future? I mean, think of the CHILDREN of sharing economy companies! Who will defend them?!
posted by glaucon at 1:01 PM on July 29, 2015 [10 favorites]


Uber is breaking the laws of the United States by not paying its employees as employees.

And before that they were breaking laws by operating completely unlicensed and unregulated until local municipalities were forced to create new categories for them. They are chronic scofflaws. If we fix the employment status issue, I'm sure we'll find other areas where they are ignoring current law. They cannot be trusted to operate honestly or fairly.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 1:02 PM on July 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


It has not decided whether Uber is breaking the law:
If the Uber case goes to trial, a jury will be asked to consider those same factors again. Uber has some strong arguments against employee status, compared with FedEx. Its drivers are expected to follow strict rules including a ban on drug and alcohol use, but Uber doesn’t tell them when to drive or require them to work at all. They are paid by the ride, and aren’t given a series of tasks that fill the day and make their pay look hourly, like the FedEx drivers were. They supply their own vehicles and pay for gas, but many Uber drivers work for livery companies that use the system to find customers and dispatch drivers. Those drivers have their expenses paid by their employer, who looks at Uber as a service.

“Uber’s model is not one that automatically is a fatality under the federal and most state labor laws,” Reibstein said. “It’s how they have structured, documented and implemented it. They could have done a better job, but it looks like a jury may have to decide that.”
The main reason that taxis are so expensive is not insurance or regulation. It's rentier capitalism:
In theory, taxi medallions -- which give the bearer the right to use a certified car as a taxi -- are a means of regulating the number of vehicles on the road, which has many legitimate dimensions. In practice, the medallions are often owned by rentiers, speculators who extract fees from actual drivers, while adding no value to the system. They win, and everyone else -- drivers, passengers and cities -- lose.
What I think should happen is that Uber should be allowed to pay drivers whatever they want. The drivers should be taken care of by strong social services paid for by progressive taxes on the rich.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 1:13 PM on July 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


I've linked it before, but this article from nine years ago remains a pretty good summary of how screwed up transit in Atlanta is and how it got that way. It's only gotten worse since it was written.
“Waiting for a ride,” Michael Wall, Creative Loafing, 19 April 2006
Now there's the ridiculous streetcar the city just spent a fortune putting in. They were supposed to start charging fares in March, but decided to run for "free" for all of 2015 in part because the ridership numbers weren't where they expected them to be. At least for some people who live along it's 2.7 mile route, it's not even good for getting to the office because it's not much faster than walking. You were supposed to be able to use your MARTA Breeze card to pay for the streetcar. However, the city has let an RFP to have an entirely separate fare payment system using a mobile phone app by the end of the year. The statement of work reads like a copy-and-paste of the spec sheet for Globe Sherpa, but maybe that's just me being cynical. There are plans to actually start going places people might want to go, but I won't hold my breath.

As far as the "sharing economy," you can't base an economy on taking in each other's washing.
posted by ob1quixote at 1:13 PM on July 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


I've only lived in the Atlanta area for four years now and like most in this thread I am thoroughly disappointed in the public transit system - as well as the overall investment in infrastructure. At first I ascribed it solely to systemic racism, poverty cycle issues, etc. I won't discount that there is a huge portion of that but after befriending a traffic engineer I also learned that we have a hopelessly fragmented approach to planning, which basically treats Atlanta as an island and then asks the 24 (!) counties that surround it to try to come up with plans to support that island. There's the funding model of MARTA, of course, and other issues but I'm starting to ascribe just as much of it to the "local bubba" model of government this state likes as much as anything else (which, with more counties than any state other than Texas - 159 - is why everything from school districts to sheriff's offices are hopelessly fragmented as well).
posted by SoFlo1 at 1:19 PM on July 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


Uber is breaking the laws of the United States by not paying its employees as employees.


It's not like taxi drivers are employees either. They're independent contractors who rent out the taxi from the cab company for the night and then hope that they get enough fares to cover the rental fee.
posted by octothorpe at 1:27 PM on July 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Uber : Real Taxis :: Some guy with a white panel van offering your kid candy : school bus

2N2222: "The biggest difference between uber/x and a real cab is that the uber experience is likely to be more convenient, reliable, and possibly cheaper."

The primary reason it's cheaper (in Illinois ... our medallion system isn't as restricted as NYC/East Coast systems are) is that Ubers are dramatically underinsured ... or not insured at all. They earn profits primarily by pretending that car accidents aren't a thing that ever happens, so they don't need to be insured for it. Here, Uber doesn't want its drivers to be employees because they don't want to be on the hook for their car accidents. So you have drivers operating on personal car insurance that explicitly doesn't apply if they're carrying paying passengers; Uber claiming they're not responsible for insurance because these are contractors, not employees; and it's all fun and games until an Uber driver hits a kid in a crosswalk who ends up paralyzed and there is literally no applicable insurance coverage.

Who pays for Uber's low rates? Every person with uninsured motorist coverage. Every person who pays into SSDI and Medicaid. Uber's low rates aren't because they're disrupting the taxi business -- they're because Uber is privatizing profit and socializing risk and refusing to carry the actual, insurable costs of doing business as a livery or taxi company.

Illinois told Uber, "Look, your drivers need to have criminal background checks run (like all livery/taxi drivers) and carry adequate liability insurance and we'll find a way for you to operate without dealing with the existing taxi infrastructure." Uber said, "No, because regulations like that stifle innovation and kill jobs. We will not run background checks and we will not require our drivers to carry insurance." Uber has been quite explicit in Illinois that their problem isn't stifling taxi medallion systems or dispatch rules or anything like that ... it's that they refuse to pay insurance, and they refuse to run background checks. THEY DON'T CARE if passengers are safe or if other road users are safe. THEY DON'T CARE if their own drivers will be bankrupted in an accident. THEIR LITERAL BUSINESS MODEL in Illinois is providing you cheap taxi rides by crossing their fingers and hoping nothing bad happens.

There were 285,477 motor vehicle accidents in Illinois in 2013. 85,000 people were seriously injured; 1,000 were killed.

Are you SURE you're in favor of a DRIVING-PEOPLE-PLACES company earning profits by failing to obey regulations to carry insurance for motor vehicle accidents?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:28 PM on July 29, 2015 [76 favorites]


The reason I started using Uber was because finding a cab with a working credit card machine is something I've never done in years of business trips. They're all mysteriously broken unless you say "Sorry, I don't have any cash" and hold firm. Then they all start working again.

At least here in Philly, our cabs' credit card machines started magically working very consistently right around the time Uber came to town. It's really quite a remarkable coincidence!
posted by Tomorrowful at 1:28 PM on July 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


I feel like any place you can hail a taxi on the street, like New York or Chicago, taxis are a convenience for people with disposable income to bypass walking or slow/multitransfer transit; any place you have to call the taxi on a phone in advance, it's probably mostly transit for poor people in places with shitty transit. (Leaving aside the airport shuttle function of taxis.)

My wife once tried to call for a cab in Chicago at the last moment in order to make it to a vet appointment. The dispatcher laughed at her and said "Oh Honey, that's not how it works.". Getting a cab in Chicago when you need a cab is not really a reliable thing.
posted by srboisvert at 1:29 PM on July 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


esprit de l'escalier: “It has not decided whether Uber is breaking the law...”

Yeah, this is one of the problems I have with this system: it must not hinge on litigation, which is extraordinarily difficult and carries risks which make it utterly prohibitive to all but a privileged few workers who both need their jobs and happen to have the money / luck to get all the way into court.

The IRS is part of the executive. It should execute the law. If companies are dodging this stuff, the IRS needs to issue its opinion. This can come to court after. But as it is, the IRS almost never enforces these things, and it's been left to companies to mine that niche as they see fit.

“What I think should happen is that Uber should be allowed to pay drivers whatever they want. The drivers should be taken care of by strong social services paid for by progressive taxes on the rich.”

This is actually ultimately what I would like; but it's a pipe dream as it is now. Moreover, it's not how the law works at the moment. We need changes to make this the status quo. People shouldn't have to rely on their employers for health care; they should get that from the government. But until we can make that happen, this is the system we have, and we can't continue to let companies shirk their responsibilities by paying employees as contractors.
posted by koeselitz at 1:39 PM on July 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


octothorpe: “It's not like taxi drivers are employees either. They're independent contractors who rent out the taxi from the cab company for the night and then hope that they get enough fares to cover the rental fee.”

Worth noting that this isn't universal – some taxi drivers are employees, in some places, depends largely on local regulation, and the whole rent-the-cab thing is not universal either – but: exactly! The IRS does nothing, even though taxi drivers are much more obviously employees even than Uber drivers, since they work regular shifts and are subject to termination if they don't. The IRS needs to actually exercise its power, rather than allowing employers to work in a system where they're allowed to opt out as long as the issue doesn't get forced.
posted by koeselitz at 1:44 PM on July 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


That's the thing. That's why I asked about "real cabs" because almost all of the criticism of Uber applies to the "regular" cab companies especially the contractor criticism. It's as if people are only aware of bad practices when it's Uber doing them.
posted by I-baLL at 2:27 PM on July 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


When the MARTA train line opened, the only line ran from Decatur station to Georgia State. That actually was useful to me, since I lived a few miles north of Decatur. As it expanded to connect the Airport, Downtown, Midtown, and Buckhead, I found it to be pretty relevant to my needs. But again, that was when I was living either close to or in the actual City of Atlanta.
posted by thelonius at 2:41 PM on July 29, 2015


I-baLL: “That's the thing. That's why I asked about "real cabs" because almost all of the criticism of Uber applies to the "regular" cab companies especially the contractor criticism. It's as if people are only aware of bad practices when it's Uber doing them.”

Huh? Eyebrows McGee was pretty clear on this above; did you miss her response to you? Uber doesn't deal with the vehicles at all; they don't insure them, they don't manage them. As such, they are, yes, much worse than "real cabs."
posted by koeselitz at 2:49 PM on July 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


The question of whether Uber drivers and vehicles ought to have livery licenses and comply with related laws is in no way a question of federal law (which is silent to it). Around the world, Uber has shown a willingness to violate local regulations until and unless held to account, and has exited, markets where the couldn't get the rules changed to their benefit when enforcement became an issue. "The better to be judged by 12" attitude is dangerous, and I often wonder if some US Attorney who used to represent the taxi industry will hit them with a RICO indictment.

However, the argument that Uber is violating independent contractor laws (state or federal) is extremely weak. Cab and livery drivers being independent contractors has been the default state of the industry, and entirely legal, for many decades. The places where cab and livery drivers are required to be employees are the result of very specific local legislation or industry agreements needed to overcome the general presumption of independent contractor status. There are few serious arguments that Uber is pushing the envelope for 1099s in the transportation space; most of the serious arguments are about changing the 1099 checklist to achieve the desired result.
posted by MattD at 2:50 PM on July 29, 2015 [8 favorites]


Also -- I hope people realize that some of the most famous corporate liability cases of the 20th Century dealt with, and for the most part permitted to thrive, the schemes that taxi fleets used and continue to use to minimize their insurance costs and their potential effective liability for accidents. Get into a taxi accident, and you are almost certainly going to confront an insurance company that will not pay under any circumstances, a driver with zero assets or income to levy, and a "corporate" owner of the taxi which has no assets other than one or two taxis (including the one damaged in the accident).
posted by MattD at 2:52 PM on July 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


Did anybody else read the article posted by a lungful or dragon yet?
As protests by taxi drivers erupted in multiple cities across China, Uber recently acknowledged its commitment to “maintain social order” by using its GPS data to track drivers and their locations near protests and canceling their Uber contracts if they were near such protests – a strong signal to the government that its cache of data could be used for the “social order maintaining” objectives of the state.
Well, damn. They're not even trying to put a democratic whitewash on their operations.
posted by clawsoon at 2:55 PM on July 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


not good for Uber and their business plan of serfdom.

Maybe this won't reassure you, but Uber's endgame is to be rid of the serfs entirely.
posted by benbenson at 2:57 PM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


According to this, only about a quarter of cab drivers and chauffeurs in the United States are contractors; the rest are paid as employees.
posted by koeselitz at 2:58 PM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Public transport in North America, with a few exceptions, is horrendous, and Uber exploits that for their profit but also for the benefit of people living in areas with poor transit options. Uber is like an opportunistic scavenger, but the killing has been done by other predators.
posted by cell divide at 3:03 PM on July 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


It's rather ironic that randian libertarians are the biggest promoters of the "sharing" economy.

I do not think that word means what you think it means.
posted by JackFlash at 3:14 PM on July 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


The nice thing about this comment is that you said absolutely nothing about the people actually driving the cars – which is the crux of the whole issue anyway. "Oh, it's easier!" – what the fuck ever. That doesn't matter. Sorry.

One of the main threads of discussion here is how the reliability and availability of Uber is in fact worth quite a lot to people, and not just rich people. I'm aware that you personally aren't necessarily defending medallion cabs either, it's just that you do see people suggesting that there's nothing to Uber's business other than skimming shady "efficiencies" which is pretty hard to take seriously if you've lived in a place where cabs just don't fucking work. And to take it a little farther, in a lot of places the problems with the traditional taxi system do have roots at least partly in regulatory capture, in a way that was fairly entrenched before Uber et al. came along. None of that means we should let them just keep ignoring any and all regulation.
posted by atoxyl at 3:29 PM on July 29, 2015 [11 favorites]


For everyone complaining that Uber is worse than cabs because it miscategorizes its drivers as contractors rather than employees, please know that all taxi companies have been up to that same scam since the dawn of time.

A taxi company, you see, is only a "dispatcher" responsible for connecting callers to its independent-contractor drivers, who each individually pay to lease a car by the hour or day from that same cab company (or actually probably a financially-remote subsidiary, in order to limit liability in case of accidents) and then hope to hell they can make it back in fares. It's contractor-scamming all the way down. It's only in the past 5 years or so that some drivers and their unions are starting to make real headway against these shenanigans.

It's not that I endorse Uber's practices at all, but it needs to be acknowledged that a major reason they are so successful is that the cab companies have themselves been pretty shitty, and have had this shittiness protected by a government mandated monopoly, for a good long time. Someone needs to crack down on Uber, but they also need to reform the cab system and, like, quadruple the number of medallions, to really do right by riders.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 3:37 PM on July 29, 2015 [11 favorites]


> please know that all taxi companies have been up to that same scam since the dawn of time.

Please see koeselitz's link.
posted by rtha at 3:46 PM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


What bothers me about Uber is not so much just the independent contractor thing in itself but that it seems like they act pretty scammy toward prospective drivers about it. They'll play up that gross fare income but do they give you any tools to help run that "small business?" Nah, mostly they just try to talk you into taking out shady auto loans.
posted by atoxyl at 3:47 PM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


There's an imagined independent part-time Uber driver scenario that appeals to me and I'd guess a lot of people - "it's Saturday afternoon, I have a couple hours to kill. Let's turn on the app, see if I can make $60 and buy everybody drinks tonight." I suspect the number of Uber-ers actually using it like that is not that high.
posted by atoxyl at 3:55 PM on July 29, 2015


Or I mean the statistics say there a a lot of very part-time drivers picking up hours. It's just that the people who do it as their real job (including part-time) need it to be a real job.
posted by atoxyl at 4:00 PM on July 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Until Monday, I lived in SF. In order to go a distance of 4.3 miles (from my ex's place to mine) on a weekend, I had to take BART from 24th and Mission to Civic Center, then a MUNI train ONE STOP to Van Ness, then an N-substitution bus the rest of the way (since they shut down the N train on weekends for track repair). If I was still traveling that route, I'd have to take BART --> bus bridge for one stop (they're shutting down all underground MUNI train stops between 10pm and 5am every night for 6 months) --> N train. That is three different vehicles that don't run super frequently on weekends and definitely don't have timed transfers.

Hailing a cab in SF at this point isn't possible unless you are in the Financial District, where not a lot of people live.

So...Uber starts looking a lot more attractive in order to travel 4.3 miles in a reasonable time.
posted by Ragini at 4:16 PM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


But...I will actually also say that Uber isn't perfect either. I have the "where are you?" call almost every time I call one. Recently in NYC, I had one show up after 13 mins of waiting, and then as I was walking to it, the driver canceled and sped away.
posted by Ragini at 4:18 PM on July 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Joey Buttafoucault: "Someone needs to crack down on Uber, but they also need to reform the cab system and, like, quadruple the number of medallions, to really do right by riders."

These are both priorities, but they're very low priorities. Neither traditional cab companies nor Uber will ever decently serve poor people. Neither will even decently serve middle-income people. There will never be a situation where anyone anywhere will make a profit driving a single person across any city for what would be a reasonable price for that person to afford (which is, in my mind, something approaching $2, but preferably free.) The closest Uber has come is UberPool, which sunset in snow country mentioned above; it has potential, but even it will never come close to adequately serving the transportation needs of the vast majority of any given populace. What is needed is a service that is (a) general and reliable to move the biggest percentage of people exactly where they want to go, and (b) affordable enough to be used by the majority of people in a city, which means taxpayer-subsidized.

In other words: the conclusions of the article in the main link aren't wrong; they're actually quite perspicacious. And all the people who want to point out that traditional cabs are terrible too are right on the money: the old cab business has problems, big problems. What we're skipping over is this: those among us in cities who are poor or even middle-class are severely underserved when it comes to transportation. Even a middle-income person cannot afford $7 for an Uber each way to get to work, and shouldn't be forced to give up health care or food to be able to. This is not the functional running of a city.

Uber is a dead end. So are taxis. We need public transit.
posted by koeselitz at 4:19 PM on July 29, 2015 [9 favorites]


Yes, lack of reliable transportation is just one more way that the cycle of poverty spirals and crushes people.

Anecdata, but: in talking to people in historic preservation / new urbanism / transit geek circles in DC, there's a feeling (and it seems to me, a correct one as I look at the neighborhoods in question) that Uber et al are also driving gentrification. Neighborhoods that were once served well by the streetcar and for the past 50 years served more poorly by buses are now easily connected to transit and services by Lyft, Peapod, etc. For locals, Woodridge is probably the most obvious example of this.

So, the poor get screwed when transit is unavailable, and screwed again when it becomes more readily available.
posted by ryanshepard at 5:28 PM on July 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm a bit confused about koeselitz's point on the IRS needing to do the heavy lifting. The IRS only cares about the classification of employees as it relates to withholding. The IRS would need to exhaust significant administrative hurdles before it could take Uber to court over classifying their employees incorrectly.

A tax audit is a private affair, and the IRS would not be discussing ongoing tax matters with a corporate tax payer. So we frankly don't know what the IRS is and isn't doing.

That said, they've had their budget sliced to the bone. Which will limit the resources they can spend on enforcement. Now's a great time to be a tax cheat.

The pertinent violations are related to insurance, which would fall under different organizations. Most at a local level. The Department of Labor makes sense at a federal level, but I'm not actually sure any federal legislation gives them jurisdiction.

Also, the BLS link showing that only 25% of taxi drivers are self-employed isn't particularly convincing. It also states that only 21% of taxi drivers/chauffers are actually in the taxi/limo industry. Given that selling your services as a contract driver will most likely classify you in the taxi/limo industry, I'd wager that translates into a majority of taxi drivers being classified as contractors.
posted by politikitty at 5:42 PM on July 29, 2015


I'd be interested in seeing a employee model for Uber and other ridesharing companies like Lyft. I'm a Lyfy driver myself and I have to say thay if I had to work set hours each week it wouldn't be very attractive. Im not sure how an employee model would get around this?However, I also say that as someone who has a full-time job with benefits so this is more like extra cash than real income.

I do feel bad for people with disabilities and seeing eye dogs. As a driver I've never encountered this and honestly never thought about it. I never been told about ADA regulations and I doubt many other drivers have as well. I'd let someone with a dog into the car presuming I had seat cover if the dog seemed to be shedding, etc, although honestly I think the rider should really have one since it's their dog and there's little incentive for driver to. Plus a cover us cheaper than the fee charged to clean a car in case of an accident...for that reason too I think really drunk people who use lyft and Uber should carry their own barf bags.

As far as wheel chair users go, I think they'll have a much harder time unfortunately. Since drivers are independent contractors who use their own vehicles it's unlikely that you'll find many people with accessible vehicles unless the company provides them. And if someone has a foldable wheelchair I doubt most drivers would even know how to fully assist the passenger with seating and folding and removing the chair.
posted by CosmicSeeker42 at 6:05 PM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


They're all mysteriously broken unless you say "Sorry, I don't have any cash" and hold firm.

Once a DC cab dropped me off at an ATM at 2 am and refused to take me any further until I withdrew cash. Fuck cabs.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:20 PM on July 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


Miami goes from the airport to the waterfront.

Miami deserves much more credit than this. Metrorail is very limited, but it does far more than go from the airport to the waterfront. Hell, it didn't go to the airport until a couple of years ago. There are stations in nice parts of town, crappy parts of town, and in between parts of town. Several have shopping close by. One (at the south end) is at a giant mall. Stations are somewhat rationally connected to buses. There is an easy connection between Metrorail and the people mover downtown as well as to the increasingly useless (thanks to headway increasing service cuts) Tri-Rail regional commuter rail. Miami's bigger problem is that it is incredibly pedestrian unfriendly and incredibly humid, making the weather easily as unfriendly as the streets.

The main issue with Metrorail is when it was built. During the planning stages, it was supposed to be something like four lines and would have reached much of the county. Sadly, that planning was done in the early 70s and the bond issue was sized for the prices of the time. Enter stagflation and suddenly building the thing cost four times what it would have in 1972 and there was no money to finish it.

It actually does pretty well given the limited resources allocated to it. If my SO's job offer hadn't fallen through, I'd be living in a house a block away from a station two stops from downtown and would likely use it every day and be able to get to most things I'd need to get to. Instead I'm stuck in the hellhole (transit-wise) that is Broward County, where it would take 2.5 hours by transit to get to the airport in Miami, and that is using a car or Uber to get to the Tri-Rail station. Add an extra 45 minutes by bus to eliminate the 10 minute drive.

Better Tri-Rail and the full Metrorail would be lovely. It might do something about the nightmarish traffic on the very few limited access highways around here. I would far rather have a driving commute in Atlanta or even Boston than here.
posted by wierdo at 6:30 PM on July 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'd be interested in seeing a employee model for Uber and other ridesharing companies like Lyft. I'm a Lyfy driver myself and I have to say thay if I had to work set hours each week it wouldn't be very attractive. Im not sure how an employee model would get around this?However, I also say that as someone who has a full-time job with benefits so this is more like extra cash than real income.

What the IRS says is that if you maintain the right to set workers' hours then they that's an indication that they should be considered employees. I don't know that it necessarily has to hold the other way around but my knowledge about this is pretty limited.
posted by atoxyl at 6:36 PM on July 29, 2015


Here's the thing -- Uber and other similar services are a GREAT complement to mass transit. In most cities in this country, it's possible to plan your life so that you can take transit to work and your other common destinations. But you still need to get other places once or twice a week. Plus, transit sometimes flakes out in bad weather or driver strikes or whatever, so you need a backup plan. So any occasional service that can fill in the gaps -- Uber, Lyft, car2go, bike share -- can really help you get rid of your car. Sure, those services are expensive on a per-mile basis, but if transit is your normal commute you can save a lot of money in the long run.

Unfortunately I'm stuck driving to work. There's a giant transit center (5-story garage) AT my work -- but 100% of the buses leave in the morning, and arrive in the afternoon. Just to add insult to injury, 99% of my commute is bikeable, but the last 100 yards or so is a freeway with no shoulders and biking on it would be suicidal. I think that sums up everything that is wrong with American cities.
posted by miyabo at 6:48 PM on July 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


And for what it's worth, one of my clients is a taxi company in a smallish city. The company owns the cabs and the workers are all employees and are covered by the company's insurance at all times they are driving the company vehicles.

That's exactly how the other cab companies work, unlike Uber and Lyft, who in addition to ignoring the state and local insurance requirements also refuse to apply for the perfunctory certificate of necessity or whatever it is called or require their drivers to get (again, cheap and pretty much perfunctory) taxi driver licenses.

The point being that even when the rules are reasonably cheap and easy to navigate, they don't bother, and indeed complain loudly about onerous licensing requirements. It really highlights what bullshit their whining really is. If it really were about rationalizing the regulation, they would comply in locales where the regulation is already minimal.

But yes, "ride sharing" companies do sometimes provide a superior user experience. It is impossible to find a dispatcher that will actually tell customers the truth. Maybe it's because they get yelled at just as much for saying it'll be half an hour or whatever as they do when they lie and say it'll be 5 minutes and it ends up taking half an hour and at least that way they don't get yelled at up front. The customers really are also entitled shits, in the main.

I say sometimes because I've been fucked by Uber and Lyft drivers on several occasions in the past. They have taken much longer to arrive than they said, claimed they couldn't find me, and outright refused a ride on several occasions. Once, they were so late picking up my SO she missed her train despite requesting a 15 minute ride an hour in advance. I ended up having to buy her a Megabus ticket to get her home that night since Amtrak only had 3 daily departures and she was ticketed on the last train. At least Amtrak were nice about it and refunded the return half of the fare.
posted by wierdo at 9:05 PM on July 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


I once hailed a passing cab in Atlanta, near the Emory hospitals. He did take me home, but chuckling the whole way. "You're from New York, right?" he kept asking. The whole idea of hailing a passing cab amused him no end.
posted by chortly at 9:34 PM on July 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'd let someone with a dog into the car presuming I had seat cover if the dog seemed to be shedding, etc, although honestly I think the rider should really have one since it's their dog and there's little incentive for driver to.

The incentive is ADA compliance and not discriminating against people with mobility devices and service dogs—which are not pets. Jesus. If you don't want pet hair in your car then you get a seat cover. Jesus.

And if someone has a foldable wheelchair I doubt most drivers would even know how to fully assist the passenger with seating and folding and removing the chair.

And yet somehow they're allowed to operate a business with the sole purpose of transferring people from one place to another. Jesus.
posted by Room 641-A at 10:21 PM on July 29, 2015 [7 favorites]


Honestly, my only complaint about my regional transit service is that it's not 24/7, or even 24/5. I live in a very economically and ethnically diverse zipcode, and I'm unusually well-served with transit options 6am-10pm. This is due to living between two major arterials, one of the rare cross-arterial bus lines, and near a light-rail stop (best way to get to airport short of a helicopter, especially when they finish the stop INSIDE the terminal parking garage).

Paratransit simply doesn't show up half the time. I started using the bus months before it was safe for me, bcse I literally couldn't get to the grocery 1/2 mile away during the hours they were open.

Try to get anywhere by 5am by transit? Very funny. Uber/Lyft don't pick up in my neighborhood (I have to raise hell just to get dropped off). Cabs do, but going from town to an outlying area can run up to $75 *one way*. Same trip 90 mins later, during rush hour, on transit? $2.00.
posted by Dreidl at 10:33 PM on July 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


I am sincerely thanking everyone sharing stories of horrible public transit. Sometimes I grumble about mine, and I need to remember it could be so much worse.
posted by curious nu at 6:23 AM on July 30, 2015


CosmicSeeker42: “I'm a Lyfy driver myself and I have to say thay if I had to work set hours each week it wouldn't be very attractive. Im not sure how an employee model would get around this?”

This is not how being an employee works. Many employees have flexible hours. Uber / Lyft would not be forced to set strict hours if their drivers were employees.

“I do feel bad for people with disabilities and seeing eye dogs. As a driver I've never encountered this and honestly never thought about it. I never been told about ADA regulations and I doubt many other drivers have as well... As far as wheel chair users go, I think they'll have a much harder time unfortunately. Since drivers are independent contractors who use their own vehicles it's unlikely that you'll find many people with accessible vehicles unless the company provides them. And if someone has a foldable wheelchair I doubt most drivers would even know how to fully assist the passenger with seating and folding and removing the chair.”

As Room 641-A said above, the way it works is this. You have two choices.

The first choice is to accept service dogs, in every instance, whether you have a seat cover or not; and to accept wheelchair owners and make your vehicle handicapped accessible for every potential customer no matter what, being prepared to fold up or otherwise store their wheelchairs and other assistance gear, in every case.

The second choice is to get sued into oblivion and prevented from ever working as a driver again.

Really, you get to pick. But you only get to pick one of these options. You don't get to be a driver, in the United States, under U.S. law, unless you are compliant. That's how it works. You're offering a public accommodation, so you can't violate the ADA. If the first option is too much of a hassle for you, or is too expensive, then you shouldn't be driving anybody anywhere.
posted by koeselitz at 7:23 AM on July 30, 2015 [9 favorites]


Also, guide dogs for the blind are generally trained not to sit on car seats. They lie down in the foot well. Scratching leather seats should not be any sort of issue for a guide dog.

That driver's not only a discriminating-against-people-with-disabilities jerk, he's an ignorant one.
posted by asperity at 8:31 AM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Well, I only blame drivers a little for this. I still think it's Uber/Lyft's responsibility to be informing their drivers about these issues. But they don't – and I think most drivers just have no idea how much they're opening themselves up for liability here.

There's also a very annoying shell game that's happening here because Uber/Lyft really, really, really do not want to seem to be taking any responsibility for drivers, since that makes them seem like employers, and since that increases their liability. So they tend to just want to say "that's up to individual drivers." That's... problematic, to say the least. There is clearly a huge training gap here.
posted by koeselitz at 9:08 AM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


and make your vehicle handicapped accessible for every potential customer no matter what
Sec. 37.29 Private entities providing taxi service.

(a) Providers of taxi service are subject to the requirements of this part for private entities primarily engaged in the business of transporting people which provide demand responsive service.

(b) Providers of taxi service are not required to purchase or lease accessible automobiles. When a provider of taxi service purchases or leases a vehicle other than an automobile, the vehicle is required to be accessible unless the provider demonstrates equivalency as provided in Sec. 37.105 of this part. A provider of taxi service is not required to purchase vehicles other than automobiles in order to have a number of accessible vehicles in its fleet.
Seems like that's not the law in America right now.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 12:35 PM on July 30, 2015


At least here in Philly, our cabs' credit card machines started magically working very consistently right around the time Uber came to town. It's really quite a remarkable coincidence!
posted by Tomorrowful at 4:28 PM on July 29 [3 favorites +] [!]


Precisely the same thing has happened here in DC.
posted by Thistledown at 2:48 PM on July 30, 2015


esprit de l'escalier: “Seems like that's not the law in America right now.”

Really? Could you (a) explain how the quoted section regarding the purchase of vehicles is relevant, or (b) provide some section that is relevant?
posted by koeselitz at 3:53 PM on July 30, 2015


and make your vehicle handicapped accessible for every potential customer no matter what
Sec. 37.29 Private entities providing taxi service.

(a) Providers of taxi service are subject to the requirements of this part for private entities primarily engaged in the business of transporting people which provide demand responsive service.

(b) Providers of taxi service are not required to purchase or lease accessible automobiles. When a provider of taxi service purchases or leases a vehicle other than an automobile, the vehicle is required to be accessible unless the provider demonstrates equivalency as provided in Sec. 37.105 of this part. A provider of taxi service is not required to purchase vehicles other than automobiles in order to have a number of accessible vehicles in its fleet.
Seems like that's not the law in America right now.

posted by esprit de l'escalier at 12:35 PM on July 30


Oh FFS:

§ 37.29 Private entities providing taxi service.
(a) Providers of taxi service are subject to the requirements of this part for private entities primarily engaged in the business of transporting people which provide demand responsive service.

(b) Providers of taxi service are not required to purchase or lease accessible automobiles. When a provider of taxi service purchases or leases a vehicle other than an automobile, the vehicle is required to be accessible unless the provider demonstrates equivalency as provided in § 37.105 of this part. A provider of taxi service is not required to purchase vehicles other than automobiles in order to have a number of accessible vehicles in its fleet.

(c) Private entities providing taxi service shall not discriminate against individuals with disabilities by actions including, but not limited to, refusing to provide service to individuals with disabilities who can use taxi vehicles, refusing to assist with the stowing of mobility devices, and charging higher fares or fees for carrying individuals with disabilities and their equipment than are charged to other persons.
posted by Room 641-A at 4:01 PM on July 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


(My frustration wasn't directed at you koeselitz, I didn't preview.)
posted by Room 641-A at 4:02 PM on July 30, 2015


I don't know why you should get "frustrated" over an internet comment. It's clear that they do have to help you if they can, but they don't have to provide any accessible vehicles, which isn't what was said above.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 4:09 PM on July 30, 2015


I think there's some confusion about what an accessible vehicle means. My reading of the law as quoted above is that it needs to have stowage space for a wheelchair/mobility device. That is: it doesn't need to be a van with a wheelchair ramp or lift, merely a pretty much normal car with enough space in the trunk for a wheelchair.

Anybody have any insight into this?
posted by wemayfreeze at 4:33 PM on July 30, 2015


The law doesn't say anything about space, but it has been interpreted to mean that you can't say "yeah, I don't want to deal with helping you load your wheelchair". Which is a thing that taxis do a lot! (It just isn't legal.)
posted by spaceman_spiff at 4:37 PM on July 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


I didn't say anything about purchasing a handicapped-accessible vehicle. I said you have to make the vehicle you have handicapped accessible - by (as has been said above many times) making enough space inside for a service animal, accepting and stowing portable wheelchairs, etc. I haven't seen any contradiction of that here.
posted by koeselitz at 4:46 PM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh, when you said: "handicapped accessible", I thought you meant ramps, etc.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 4:49 PM on July 30, 2015


Hailing a cab in SF at this point isn't possible unless you are in the Financial District, where not a lot of people live.

It's kind of a shame it isn't better known, but Yellow Cab SF has an app that's just as user-friendly as Uber's and actually hails cabs for you. I've used it, it's great. (And they're apparently really proud of the insurance/licensure requirements.)
posted by psoas at 1:40 PM on July 31, 2015 [2 favorites]


Actually in bigger cities like New York there's been a lot of controversy the last few years about what percentage of cabs, citywide, must be handicapped-accessible in terms of ramps and lifts and so on, and then, knock-on, what the responsibility is of any given medallion owner (primarily pertaining to companies that own many). The US is typically at the forefront of handicapped accessibility in general, but cabs in most cities are just abysmal; London's black cab fleet, IIRC, is the most accessible by a large margin. It was an issue in the NYC mayoral election (50% of medallioned cabs are supposed to be fully accessible by 2020), it is a hot topic, and of course it's an issue Uber feels free to exempt itself from dealing with. Recent NYC proposals are for 100% of cabs, INCLUDING Uber. Uber remains opposed; you can't disrupt when you're subject to the ADA. Civil rights laws are for boring pre-disruption companies. Of 12,700 Ubers in NYC, ZERO are handicapped accessible. ZERO.

In fact people were just protesting Uber's nationwide anti-disability policies yesterday.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:47 PM on July 31, 2015 [2 favorites]


More on Uber and the disabled: it has contended in court filings in multiple states that is has no obligation to serve the disabled, particularly blind or wheelchair using passengers, because it is a technology company and thus not subject to the ADA as it applies to transit companies.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:55 PM on July 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


“The Future of Work in the Uber Economy,” Steven Hill, Boston Review, 22 July 2015 [via]
posted by ob1quixote at 10:38 AM on August 2, 2015


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