California just passed a landmark law to regulate Uber and Lyft
September 18, 2019 4:27 PM   Subscribe

Drivers will likely get health care and paid time off under the law. California just disrupted the gig economy. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a controversial bill Wednesday, known as AB 5, after months of uproar from businesses and gig companies like Uber and Lyft. The bill will require businesses to hire workers as employees, not independent contractors, with some exceptions. That will give hundreds of thousands of California workers basic labor rights for the first time. And despite an aggressive lobbying campaign, Uber and Lyft are not exempt.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis (142 comments total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
 
Thank heavens! That “contractor” bullshit needs to die in a fire.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:29 PM on September 18, 2019 [60 favorites]


Will Trump try to undo this in his assault on California?
posted by bz at 4:31 PM on September 18, 2019 [4 favorites]


The only downside I can see from this is the increase in costs for VC backed gig economy companies having to pay for all this might finally exceed what VCs are willing to throw at them, finally causing the whole stupid house of cards underpinning these companies to collapse. Which is only a downside if you work for them. I think society will be a lot better without it all.
posted by SansPoint at 4:47 PM on September 18, 2019 [19 favorites]


There's some weird fraud going on where Uber and Lyft are claiming they will refuse to obey the law, so now everyone is going to have to sue them and I guess it might be a while before drivers actually experience the consequences of this.
posted by value of information at 4:51 PM on September 18, 2019 [13 favorites]


The only downside I can see from this is the increase in costs for VC backed gig economy companies having to pay for all this might finally exceed what VCs are willing to throw at them, finally causing the whole stupid house of cards underpinning these companies to collapse. Which is only a downside if you work for them. I think society will be a lot better without it all.

If Uber and Lyft disappear (which seems highly unlikely) I think it would also be a downside for all the people who get rides on Uber and Lyft, which is a lot of people.
posted by value of information at 4:53 PM on September 18, 2019 [17 favorites]


Well, either the basic concept is supportable with reasonable labor protections, in which case even if Uber/Lyft disappear another company will arise, or it's not supportable in which case it should die.

I think it's probably the former. It will probably get more expensive, but if the only reason it was cheaper was exploiting drivers than it should just never have been that cheap to begin with (like other things in this economy).
posted by thefoxgod at 4:55 PM on September 18, 2019 [102 favorites]


I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve had to explain to a chair or a director that deliberately misclassifying their workers as “independent contractors” was a bad idea. It’s a lot harder to do now that the “gig economy” has everyone confusing shopworn tax evasion and wage theft schemes with some kind of radical cost-cutting acumen.

California’s ABC test in the wake of the Dynamex ruling is elegant in its simplicity. It’s also going to piss off a lot of self-styled “disruptive innovators.” I hope smarter states than my own will follow suit.
posted by armeowda at 5:02 PM on September 18, 2019 [35 favorites]


I think it would also be a downside for all the people who get rides on Uber and Lyft, which is a lot of people.

counterpoint: uber and lyft achieving their ultimate endgame goals of destroying labor and consumer protections for car services everywhere, pricing all other car services out of the market, and then no longer subsidizing everyone's rides with VC funds, leaving everyone with only one egregiously overpriced option, will be a much bigger downside for everyone everywhere.
posted by poffin boffin at 5:05 PM on September 18, 2019 [126 favorites]


if you want to gamble on total societal collapse before those goals are achieved i'm not going to say it's a terribly long shot at this point but it's a big fuckin risk.
posted by poffin boffin at 5:06 PM on September 18, 2019 [7 favorites]


Even without this, Uber's days were numbered. They lost $5.8 billion in one quarter. Investors are not going to throw enough money into that hole for them to climb out. This may accelerate the inevitable somewhat.
posted by adamrice at 5:07 PM on September 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


Based on this paragraph from the link that value of information posted above, I think it's very unlikely that business as usual is going to change without a lot lengthy legal challenges. Sad to say it, but I don't think this means much of anything for the day-to-day lives of people attempting to make a living in the gig economy (at least for the immediately foreseeable future).
But Uber and Lyft say they’re not worried. In fact, both ride-hailing companies say the new law doesn’t force them to make the costly change of turning their drivers into employees. That’s because to do so they would have to consider drivers as part of their “usual course” of business. Uber has said its drivers aren’t because the app is really a tech platform for “digital marketplaces” and not primarily an employer of drivers.
posted by treepour at 5:11 PM on September 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


I think it would also be a downside for all the people who get rides on Uber and Lyft, which is a lot of people.

This is true.

However, there are a lot of good things in the world that are built on other people's suffering, and the fundamental exploitation of many more than those who benefit. So while I'm sure that some people will play the violin over this, I'm pretty sure it's not the biggest one around.
posted by entropone at 5:12 PM on September 18, 2019 [7 favorites]


Uber has said its drivers aren’t because the app is really a tech platform for “digital marketplaces” and not primarily an employer of drivers.

How does this argument stand up in court? Or is just accepting lies out of one side of the mouth and bald faced admissions out of the other just how things are done now?? They don't actually have other businesses do they?
posted by bleep at 5:18 PM on September 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


Personally I think there should be a place for this kind of service with well-paid employees, it's a vital service that has been around forever and a lot of people like doing this kind of job and are good at it. We CAN have nice things people I MUST believe this to be true.
posted by bleep at 5:20 PM on September 18, 2019 [8 favorites]


Since the bill passed the state assembly in May, California businesses had been panicking over the possibility of it passing. The state’s Chamber of Commerce and dozens of industry groups lobbied for exemptions, and a long list of professions was excluded from the bill: doctors, dentists, lawyers, architects, insurance agents, accountants, engineers, financial advisers, real estate agents, and hairstylists who rent booths at salons.

Among the exclusions listed in the law but not in this paragraph is the journalism industry, of course.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 5:21 PM on September 18, 2019 [6 favorites]


It sounds like Uber/Lyft's argument is founded on an intentional misreading of the ABC test (or being implausibly dumb). If I am reading it correctly, the test says, basically "you can be an independent contractor if you satisfy any of the conditions A, B, or C." Uber/Lyft are arguing that their drivers do not satisfy one of these conditions—but they're not arguing that the drivers satisfy none of these conditions. Or are they?
posted by adamrice at 5:22 PM on September 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


They lost $5.8 billion in one quarter.

I lived through the worst (or best, depending on how you look at it) of the dotcom excesses in the late 1990’s and I don’t think any company managed to pull off this feat back then.

You have have to really fucking work at losing nearly 6 billion dollars in a quarter. I personally know how much work you have to do to lose 350 million dollars in a year on a dumb idea and y’all, spending 350 million dollars in a year on a bad tech business takes a fuckload of engineering and development time. 5.8 billion in a quarter...that’s like, fucking incredible velocity.

What a beautiful grift.
posted by nikaspark at 5:23 PM on September 18, 2019 [46 favorites]



To hire an independent contractor, businesses must prove that the worker a) is free from the company’s control, b) is doing work that isn’t central to the company’s business, and c) has an independent business in that industry. If they don’t meet all three of those conditions, then they have to be classified as employees.


Either the article is wrong, or Uber's argument is even wronger. It's not like Uber drivers are independently in the business of driving people around without Uber.
posted by Ickster at 5:25 PM on September 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


(and by beautiful I mean horrifying in case my sarcasm isn’t showing through)
posted by nikaspark at 5:25 PM on September 18, 2019 [4 favorites]


Personally I think there should be a place for this kind of service with well-paid employees, it's a vital service that has been around forever and a lot of people like doing this kind of job and are good at it. We CAN have nice things people I MUST believe this to be true.

If I had to guess, I would guess that in 10 years we will be using some much leaner version of Uber where all the drivers actually are independent contractors and communicate through FOSS clients hitting some marketplace API hosted by a company much smaller than Uber who actually just runs the servers and does not bother itself about telling drivers what to do. That sounds like a much more efficient outcome than the current "weird giant corporate behemoth middleman", but I don't know whether the surplus will tend to go to drivers or riders.
posted by value of information at 5:27 PM on September 18, 2019 [16 favorites]


It's not like Uber drivers are independently in the business of driving people around without Uber.

A lot of drivers (here in Seattle anyway) are on multiple platforms, and at least some are on Uber and Lyft in addition to working for a traditional taxi company. That's probably the argument for c.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 5:28 PM on September 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


> It's not like Uber drivers are independently in the business of driving people around without Uber.

You say that but Uber drivers are sometimes also Lyft drivers. That kind of meets the criterion you set forth, does it not?
posted by pwnguin at 5:28 PM on September 18, 2019


Even if C is true by driving for multiple companies it's still within Uber's main line of business and drivers are under their control in the way drivers are penalized for not picking up the next fare and being pressured to drive during certain times.
posted by bleep at 5:32 PM on September 18, 2019 [4 favorites]


These protections for Uber and Lyft drivers and others are overdue. It will be a good thing, even if it does raise the cost of rides somewhat. I am certainly willing to pay more.

However, those cheering for the demise of these services should realize what a godsend they have been for so many people who have not been well served by public transportation and traditional ride services like taxi cabs. The life of one of my friends who is legally blind has been transformed, for example. Her mobility was quite limited.

As for the drivers, my conversations with them have not indicated a that they are terribly dissatisfied. Of course they want better pay, but being an Uber or Lyft driver is a far cry from the dirty unsafe factory jobs of the early 20th century. These are not people forced out of driving for taxis or public transportation into lower paying, more dangerous jobs for rideshare companies. Most have other jobs, and driving is a sideline.

As for how Lyft and Uber portray their businesses to avoid the law, I doubt that will work in the long run. However, their defenses are going to make a lot of lawyers quite a bit of money, even though they will fail eventually.
posted by haiku warrior at 5:33 PM on September 18, 2019 [11 favorites]


How many of those drivers negotiated even a single line in the terms of their contract? Or was it entirely a “take it or leave it” deal? Because they might be contractors, but calling them “independent” is a complete load of bullshit.
posted by notoriety public at 5:33 PM on September 18, 2019 [13 favorites]


It's not like Uber drivers are independently in the business of driving people around without Uber.

You could just as well say that an Orange Julius isn't in the business of selling Orange Julii  Oranges Julius  Orange Juliuses refreshments without a mall, but they are absolutely not employees of the owners/managers of the mall itself.
posted by aubilenon at 5:41 PM on September 18, 2019 [6 favorites]


Uber and Lyft have based their business from the beginning on breaking / ignoring the law, so it's not exactly surprising they are planning on trying to ignore this too. Hopefully the courts and legislature will swiftly knock that down.

(Another reason why I would greatly prefer for them both to go out of business, but I'm not opposed to a new ride-share company taking their place as long as it doesnt do the "lets just ignore the law and disrupt lol" approach)
posted by thefoxgod at 5:41 PM on September 18, 2019 [6 favorites]


Will this have any effect on the permatemps at tech companies?
posted by mattamatic at 5:54 PM on September 18, 2019 [9 favorites]


Always worth a reread or reshare when Uber comes up. (Previously).

tl;dr: Uber is a scam predicated on widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles and they have missed their window of opportunity with regard to captive legislative bodies, probably.
posted by mwhybark at 5:57 PM on September 18, 2019 [6 favorites]


You say that but Uber drivers are sometimes also Lyft drivers. That kind of meets the criterion you set forth, does it not?

Many people have more than one job and more than one employer. That doesn't make them independent contractors.

Someone can clean hotel rooms part of the time and clean restaurants as their second job. That doesn't make them an independent cleaner.
posted by JackFlash at 6:07 PM on September 18, 2019 [23 favorites]


> Will this have any effect on the permatemps at tech companies?

At least according a colleague of mine, the permatemp problem was fixed by legislation, and Intel responded to by removing the 'perma' part of the agreement. Now, after 18 months you are simply let go regardless of how good you were.
posted by pwnguin at 6:08 PM on September 18, 2019 [7 favorites]


"Uber is a scam predicated on widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles"

It looks like they just jumped in too soon. They go bust, someone picks up the IP for pennies, waits a few years until the non-driver cars actually work and... profit?

Maybe Uber and Lyft will only hires part-timers to do the driving. Keep everyone under 35 hours a week, no benefits needed.
posted by Marky at 6:17 PM on September 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


It should be pointed out that Uber's general counsel (who is spearheading their unbelievably slimey response to AB5) is Kamala Harris' brother-in-law, Tony West. They say you can't choose your family, but this connection really gets stuck in my craw because it's so typical of the incestuous nature of California political power.
posted by quarterframer at 6:17 PM on September 18, 2019 [6 favorites]


I'm curious how this is going to affect taxi drivers. Here in San Francisco, taxi drivers are Independent Contractors, and have been since long before Uber was started.
posted by toxic at 6:28 PM on September 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


It looks like they just jumped in too soon. They go bust, someone picks up the IP for pennies, waits a few years until the non-driver cars actually work and... profit?

It's not at all clear that autonomous residential driving is possible in our lifetimes (or, given the lack of climate change action - strike's tomorrow - will ever be possible). Highways, sure. But it's the last mile that's always been the killer.
posted by Merus at 6:29 PM on September 18, 2019 [4 favorites]


those cheering for the demise of these services should realize what a godsend they have been for so many people who have not been well served by public transportation and traditional ride services like taxi cabs

What’s the advantage of Uber/Lyft/etc over taxis once the taxis companies have adopted ride hailing apps (as they have where I am)?
posted by Secret Sparrow at 6:35 PM on September 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


Maybe I am missing it in the stories, but can someone smart please explain how overtime, rest breaks, paid time off, etc. would actually work for an Uber/Lyft driver? From what I have experienced, drivers around me really do choose when and how they drive. A guy driving me last week was a prison guard on a 4x10 schedule and did Lyft for one 12 hour day each weekend. So if they want to work a 12 hour shift, what happens? The app stops feeding them passengers? They get "permission" to work the overtime?

For paid time off, drivers never have to work so they can be off whenever they want (I think?) So do they just cash that time in? If so, wouldn't it be better to just raise the minimum wage and pay them more for each trip?

The same question with rest breaks: can't you choose what breaks you want now by turning off the app? Do you have to take one? If so, does that mean you can't pick up a passenger that wants a ride right around the corner from you if the request comes during the break?

I am 100% for improving the situation for drivers. But it strikes me that for a work force that is so variable in their schedules and desires the best solution is just to substantially raise their pay for each ride.

(Then again maybe I just don't get it.)
posted by AgentRocket at 6:48 PM on September 18, 2019 [5 favorites]


The advantage of Uber/Lyft/etc over taxis where I live is that they'll actually show up. I'm on the far Southern edge of SF near Balboa Park (still inside city limits, but a 30 minute drive to downtown without traffic). Before Lyft, you could call a cab, and it would take between 60 and 90 minutes to arrive, about 75% of the time. The other 25% of the time, you'd get a call back that said no cabs are available.

I wish they treated their drivers better, and I'm willing to pay more for that... but this is a massive improvement over what was there before.

Notably, it's not all that unusual to hail a Lyft from my home and have a Daly City taxi arrive (and not run its meter).
posted by toxic at 6:53 PM on September 18, 2019 [12 favorites]


I wonder if Uber/lyft will respond by limiting the number of hours their drivers can work to classify everyone as part-time employees and avoid paying out benefits.
posted by pleem at 7:00 PM on September 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


If Uber and Lyft disappear (which seems highly unlikely) I think it would also be a downside for all the people who get rides on Uber and Lyft, which is a lot of people.

Everyone in LA. I am 100% sure that Uber and Lyft have reduced drunk driving by more than half. And now that there is a gyspy cab culture it's not ever going away- it might move underground but never again will people be unable to get from Pasadena to West Pasadena at 2:30am on a whim. They won't stand for it.

I'm also curious how they'll track hours etc. Most drivers around here drive for both, if you order an Uber it's guaranteed to show up with a Lyft sticker on it. And half the time they're home when you summon them. Lots of drivers won't work nights, or big holidays or what have you.

Universal health care would fix a lot of this......
posted by fshgrl at 7:10 PM on September 18, 2019 [13 favorites]


I, too, wonder about the taxi/Lyft+Uber discrepancy. Taxis cost more. (Where I live.) They don't have the technology of Lyft/Uber and can sometimes not even find the customer. They are unreliable. I feel sorry for the cabbies, and never cross picket lines, but if they can't find a working business model, that's really too bad. Not that the economics of driving your own Lyft/Uber vehicle are necessarily a good long-term business model. But, then, those Silicon Valley moguls are not really into long-term thinking, are they?
posted by kozad at 7:32 PM on September 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


The question of taxi drivers being employees is complicated and uncertain. There have been a couple of court cases in California similar to the Uber/Lyft lawsuits. A big difference between taxis and rideshare is that in most parts of california, taxi drivers have their own individual taxi permit that they get from their city/county (then in big cities like SF this becomes way more complicated with leased medallions).

Of course Uber and Lyft both tried as hard as possible to avoid taxi regulations in the first place, so it's difficult for them to now point at taxi companies as equivalent to their own business.
posted by muddgirl at 7:36 PM on September 18, 2019 [6 favorites]


“The advantage of Uber/Lyft/etc over taxis where I live is that they'll actually show up. ... Before Lyft, you could call a cab, and it would take between 60 and 90 minutes to arrive, about 75% of the time. The other 25% of the time, you'd get a call back that said no cabs are available.”

So what’s driving that difference? Is it down to Uber/Lyft/etc penalizing their drivers for turning down jobs in a way that local taxi dispatchers don’t?
posted by Secret Sparrow at 7:37 PM on September 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


Yes, that is another big difference between taxi companies and rideshare. Uber also has restrictions on the cars their drivers use.
posted by muddgirl at 7:39 PM on September 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


I should add that I believe there have been times in the past, even before the new state definitions, where individual taxi companies have been fined for misclassifying independent contractors and have had to shut down due to the fines.
posted by muddgirl at 7:42 PM on September 18, 2019


So what’s driving that difference? Is it down to Uber/Lyft/etc penalizing their drivers for turning down jobs in a way that local taxi dispatchers don’t?

An artificial shortage in taxi medallions, mostly, and because taxi drivers are independent contractors and can't be ordered to pick someone up if they don't want to... so if a dispatcher says "go to the south-side, without a fare, so you can pick someone up to go somewhere*" all the taxi drivers can ignore the call.

* Unlike lyft, the taxi dispatcher does not ask for your destination, so the driver who's going to spend 20 minutes to get to my side of town doesn't know if I'm going downtown for a $20 fare, or just across my neighborhood for $6.
posted by toxic at 7:44 PM on September 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


Taxi fares in SF are front-loaded, so (with the exception of airport trips), it is more profitable for a driver to take a lot of quick, short fares. Sending an empty cab to my side of town is definitely going to earn them less money.

But... I live where a fair number of Lyft drivers live (it's cheaper out here), so a lot of times I can get a very quick pickup from someone who lives nearby or just started their day.
posted by toxic at 7:47 PM on September 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


I, too, wonder about the taxi/Lyft+Uber discrepancy. Taxis cost more. (Where I live.) .... I feel sorry for the cabbies, and never cross picket lines, but if they can't find a working business model, that's really too bad.

Well, you see, taxis actually do have a long standing working business model. They make a profit. It is Uber that does not. Uber loses money on every ride. They lose billions each year. Their hope is that they can use venture capital money to subsidize their business until they can drive all of their taxi competition out of business and raise prices.

Now in the short run, that's great for riders. They are getting free or discounted ride service at the expense of Uber investors. But in the long run that ruins things for everyone as competition is eliminated.

So you have it exactly backwards. The taxis have a long standing working business. Uber does not.
posted by JackFlash at 7:50 PM on September 18, 2019 [31 favorites]


Unlike lyft, the taxi dispatcher does not ask for your destination, so the driver who's going to spend 20 minutes to get to my side of town doesn't know if I'm going downtown for a $20 fare, or just across my neighborhood for $6.

Lyft does not tell the driver the destination until they arrive at the pickup location, but just before they actually accept the ride. So the Lyft driver might drive 20 minutes to your pickup location and then find that you only want to go a few blocks or worse, miles out of your way. They can cancel the pickup at that point, but they already wasted 20 minutes getting there and if they cancel more than 10% of their rides, Lyft can start cutting them off.

Uber doesn't even do that. They won't tell the driver the destination until they actually accept the ride. Then they are stuck no matter what.
posted by JackFlash at 8:04 PM on September 18, 2019 [12 favorites]


I would happily pay taxi prices if I literally ever saw even one fucking taxi, ever, at ANY time of day or night, in my neighborhood in the 3rd largest city in the United States. If their hailing "app" wasn't just a weird shitty webpage you can't even use properly on a phone and which may or may not actually summon a cab. If they didn't hold your luggage hostage in your trunk until you paid them $15 over the app price because "the app set that price, not me."

Uber and Lyft are definitely ruining things for everyone but there wasn't a whole damn lot, at least not in the city of Chicago*, to be ruined.



*Excluding precisely 10 city blocks, in the Loop
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:21 PM on September 18, 2019 [15 favorites]


The taxis have a long standing working business.

So does the mafia, for that matter.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:23 PM on September 18, 2019 [6 favorites]


Uber and Lyft are disrupting the idea in your head that you deserve decent mass transit and gaslighting us to believe that it’s about shitty taxi companies.
posted by nikaspark at 8:36 PM on September 18, 2019 [77 favorites]


So. I think I live in a ten block radius of Toxic and boy are they right about taxis in our neighborhood. And to establish my public transport bona fides, I take the train to my job everyday, a hour to and from. (less from if I can grab a certain bus home first) Only sometimes, muni just doesn't come. Especially since I work weekends, and I'm at the start of a bus route. So I get out at 7-ish and it's rapidly getting dark, and I have no car, and I can't rely on my parents to pick me up, their health isn't so good and neither of them like driving at night... If it weren't for Lyft a few times I wouldn't have gotten home before 9 or 10. And yeah, this is by the zoo, you can forget about taxis. It would take them nearly an hour to even get there, and then I'm sitting in the dark. So like, please. PLEASE. Improve public transit, it's 90 percent of how I get around anyways! But until it's improved I'm going to need to take the occasional lyft as I literally have no other way of getting home. But aarrrrrgghhh It's so scummy and I feel like a class traitor just using the app, but getting home on time is a safety issue for my afab self... and so I hope this helps the people who drive for lyft and uber, everyone of which I've met so far has been kinda awesome in their own way. (Holy shit the one guy with the car decked out in fur accessories so you were like sitting on a bear as you ride and he's just blasting Yemeni ballads it was incredible.) But yeah, taxis in my neck of SF are really unreliable, and I hope AB5 means the wonderful people who get me home at night occasionally are paid appropriately, even if it makes it more expensive for me.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 8:48 PM on September 18, 2019 [19 favorites]


Oh and an hour to and from is if I'm lucky- it's often more. Just this week we had a... incident with a lady faking an injury on the M (stuck her hand in the closing door claimed the driver was trying to kill her) that stopped the train for 20 minutes and I had to walk for the next one. God knows I love Muni but hoo boy are there some major failure points.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 8:50 PM on September 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


It's not like Uber drivers are independently in the business of driving people around without Uber.

I honestly don't know what the business status is of Uber / Lyft drivers, or Task Rabbit or any of these other app based work situations is.

I worked for a delivery company which moved its driver force from being employees to being independent contractors. As a part of this process, the company ended up having to help babysit every one of the people who was piloting a vehicle for them through the process of registering a company with the city and state, helping them navigate the unexpected tax situation that is entirely different from filing as an employee, and also had to double its record keeping because suddenly things you could just tell an employee to do if they were on the clock had to be negotiated with a separate company (the former employee) as to rate and such.

Being an "independent contractor" who can't name the rate of pay for what they do? That's not really independent in the understanding of the law I came to learn during that entire experience.

Like, how much of this work is going on under the table? I have no idea. I'm sure some in this thread can share this.
posted by hippybear at 8:51 PM on September 18, 2019 [5 favorites]


i dunno since the private sector sucks so bad at transportation maybe this is something the state could take over
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 8:54 PM on September 18, 2019 [15 favorites]


i dunno since the private sector sucks so bad at transportation maybe this is something the state could take over

But if only we could fund it or subsidize it heavily with a small, annual fee that everyone pays...
posted by Ouverture at 8:57 PM on September 18, 2019 [18 favorites]


Step 1: Uber and Lyft will subject the bill to a referendum. It will qualify for the ballot because they have enough money to get the signatures. The law will be put on hold until the next election.

Step 2: Uber and Lyft will qualify a second measure for the same election that will write the legal cover for their business model into the California Constitution. It will qualify for the ballot because they have enough money to get the signatures.

Step 3: Uber and Lyft will get both the referendum and the constitutional change approved by voters because they have enough money to get the votes.

Step 4: More Californians will become “independent contractors” under the new constitutional protection for the gig economy than before this bill was passed.
posted by vorpal bunny at 9:02 PM on September 18, 2019 [4 favorites]


Almost forgot.

Step 5: Sad trombone.
posted by vorpal bunny at 9:04 PM on September 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


FWIW, the legislative counsel's digest states the bill's intent to "codify the decision in the Dynamex case and clarify its application. " Dynamex was handed down in April 2018, so the ABC test has been the law in California for a year and a half already.

(Not sure exactly how many negative-billion dollars that is in Uber years. Around 30?)

The way that so many pro and con arguments seem to pretend Dynamex wasn't already the law has led me to suspect that it's been in the supporters' and opponents' mutual interest to exaggerate the bill's effect. The text of the bill doesn't seem like it's adding much to Dynamex (if anything, it seems like it's subtracting). But I feel like I must be missing something.

Can any California-law-knowing folks shed light on whether the passage of AB5 actually changes California law in significant ways, beyond simply codifying the ABC test and adding some exceptions?

Also, since the Dynamex decision itself observes that the ABC test is already established law in other states including Delaware and Massachusetts, does anyone know of impacts on Uber and Lyft operations in those states?
posted by shenderson at 9:13 PM on September 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


It's kind of funny now that I think about it - a lot of the problems we have with taxis is because they are dis-intentivized to form employer-employee relationships (can't force drivers to take a fare, can't force them to work a shift, can't ensure or incentivize citywide coverage). So "rideshare" comes along and disrupts this industry by ... forming employer-employee relationships but pretending not to.
posted by muddgirl at 9:18 PM on September 18, 2019 [7 favorites]


When I go home for Christmas now, I take Lyft everywhere because I don't drive. In NYC it's a more convenient option than the train; in Greensboro NC, it's either Lyft/Uber or nothing (well, or you could call a dispatcher and wait around for an hour).
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:34 PM on September 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


well, or you could call a dispatcher and wait around for an hour

So, this right here.

This is what Uber and Lyft strive to solve. And they do, but they are both losing money in bucketloads. Like, I don't understand, as someone who is not versed in Business(tm), how any business losing that much money all the time (as either of them) continues to pay employees and take on customers.

Taxi companies can't get cabs to fares quickly enough to satisfy customers. Been there...

Uber/Lyft can do it, but only while bleeding money at a level that if it were blood they'd both be dead by now.

Serious question...

How do we bridge that gap?
posted by hippybear at 9:47 PM on September 18, 2019 [6 favorites]


I don't know a lot of evidence about what a "sustainable Uber" would look like, but you can maybe get a feel for it by looking at cost breakdowns like the one from their IPO filing, analyzed here:

https://qz.com/1592971/uber-ipo-filling-reveals-how-it-spends-its-money/

If you cut all their "sales and marketing" (discounts, promotions, credits, advertising, referral bonuses) and you cut all their self-driving car research, it seems like they would be roughly revenue neutral. So I don't think that there's anything fundamentally unreasonable or unsustainable about having a product that more or less looks like Uber does now, with more or less similar prices to Uber now, and more or less the same treatment of drivers.

Now, if the drivers become employees and receive a lot of benefits, costs would go up. But at least you can say they probably shouldn't go up by as much again as the drivers are already being paid. And an Uber that is the same but costs twice as much is still a pretty useful thing to have in the world -- I would frequently prefer that over any other transportation option available to me. So I think the future of ridesharing-like services is reasonably optimistic. (And this is all assuming that autonomous vehicles do not, in fact, become a thing.)

I think the fact that taxi service is typically very bad in comparison is mostly because it has historically been a kind of absurd anti-competitive monopoly, and not because it's hard to do a better job while keeping prices down.
posted by value of information at 9:58 PM on September 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


They lost $5.8 billion in one quarter... What a beautiful grift.

Are we sure Uber isn't some kind of money laundering scheme?
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 10:04 PM on September 18, 2019 [7 favorites]


So how long til California walls itself off and says sayonara USA, it was nice knowing ya but it just ain't working out anymore? 5-6 years?
posted by gottabefunky at 10:05 PM on September 18, 2019


I think it would also be a downside for all the people who get rides on Uber and Lyft, which is a lot of people.

counterpoint: uber and lyft achieving their ultimate endgame goals of destroying labor and consumer protections for car services everywhere, pricing all other car services out of the market, and then no longer subsidizing everyone's rides with VC funds, leaving everyone with only one egregiously overpriced option, will be a much bigger downside for everyone everywhere.


When Blockbuster Video first came to my neighbor, their prices were usually about a dollar less than the "ma-and-pa" stores that had been there first. Once said stores were driven out of business and Blockbuster was the only game left in town (and the next town over), Blockbuster literally doubled their prices (I probably don't have to mention there wasn't a corresponding increase in service quality, and I'd be surprised if they increased worker wages for that matter).

May seem like I'm comparing apples and oranges, but if anyone who thinks something similar won't happen if Uber/Lyft are the only game(s) in town might be in for a bit of a surprise...
posted by gtrwolf at 10:05 PM on September 18, 2019 [8 favorites]


If you cut all their "sales and marketing" (discounts, promotions, credits

I know when I was in LA my partner was being offered $4 for a $30 ride, which I assume the driver was being paid. And I've had Lyft even in this small area routinely throwing vastly discounted rides (I assume to boost business -- I don't use a hire service often ever) at at rate where I couldn't understand how that would pay for the service.

Why do they keep doing this when it basically threatens their business model?
posted by hippybear at 10:07 PM on September 18, 2019


I suspect that what most people are looking for from a ride app like Uber/Lyft is being able to press a button and seeing a cab assigned to them, on an updating map, with an estimate. One of the problems with the traditional dispatch method is that customers don't know whether their cab is coming - and, conversely, that drivers don't know that there's going to be a passenger waiting where the passenger said they'll be. In my experience, turning up at a pickup location and not being able to find the fare is a huge irritant for drivers, one that apps solve.

So how long til California walls itself off and says sayonara USA, it was nice knowing ya but it just ain't working out anymore? 5-6 years?

Someone, who turned out to be a Russian agent, was trying to convince California to do just this.

I don't think it's feasible for a number of reasons, even though I think Canada would be happy to have California (and Washington and Oregon).
posted by Merus at 10:14 PM on September 18, 2019 [6 favorites]


An artificial shortage in taxi medallions, mostly, and because taxi drivers are independent contractors and can't be ordered to pick someone up if they don't want to... so if a dispatcher says "go to the south-side, without a fare, so you can pick someone up to go somewhere*" all the taxi drivers can ignore the call.

Oh FFS.

Please read the previously linked piece I posted. On-call carriage has very restricted demand economics (only the very rich and the very poor are reliable customers). The system in place prior to Uber and Lyft was intended to ameliorate this by legislatively requiring medallion holders to serve the low end of the market. Regulatory effects are not “artificial” unless you hold that democracy itself is artificial, which, well OK, there’s a case to be made, one that involves fighting.
posted by mwhybark at 10:16 PM on September 18, 2019 [8 favorites]


If I had to guess, I would guess that in 10 years we will be using some much leaner version of Uber where all the drivers actually are independent contractors and communicate through FOSS clients hitting some marketplace API hosted by a company much smaller than Uber who actually just runs the servers and does not bother itself about telling drivers what to do. That sounds like a much more efficient outcome than the current "weird giant corporate behemoth middleman", but I don't know whether the surplus will tend to go to drivers or riders.

The general agreement is that subsidized ride-sharing is a destructive thing (as are so many other subsidized programs).

I'm biased though. First, I put myself through college driving a cab during summers. Of course this was during the 80s, when my rent was around $100/month for a room in a shared house, tuition was 3 figures per year, and food was cheap. But I didn't have to invest in a fucking new car just to drive people around.

Then a couple of years I ago I lived in SF for a month. Bought a cheap bike on CL and every day had close calls with uber cars in bike lanes. Like their business model compels them to be a danger to others on the road.

But if you take away the lobbying factor, these services could be run as locally-based co-ops. Hire a couple of IT folks to manage the AWS nodes and a small adminstrative office to handle the financial side, right? No crazy ass VC subsidies, so the price will have to reflect the actual costs to provide the service. Then we can see if ride-hailing can actually work as a viable alternative to current transportation modes.
posted by morspin at 10:42 PM on September 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


I absolutely consider the limits on taxi medallions to be an "artificial" effect, vs a "natural" or "organic" outcome of market forces and regulatory policies. I don't necessarily think this is bad though it feels maybe a little inelegant.

Taxi medallions are not only meant to ensure that drivers meet some training and accountability requirements. They also are very much meant to limit the supply of drivers. I'm by no means an expert on this, but I can certainly see it's a thorny issue. If there's unlimited drivers, well you have a lot of empty taxis gumming up the roads driving up the roads looking for fares, using gas and making pollution, and it has a real impact on the city, while providing pretty little incremental value. And at the same time, it absolutely sucks for the taxi drivers, because driving an empty cab around looking for fares doesn't make much money, but in the times when folks are desperate for work, what are they going to do? Not drive an empty cab around all day to make just a little more from fares than they spent on gas?

That said, there's a ton of cities where this process is corrupt, or at best slow to adjust to the changing population and transportation realities, and the system of who gets a medallion is often totally unjust and broken, but yeah these limits do have reasons.
posted by aubilenon at 10:51 PM on September 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


If Uber and Lyft disappear, Uber and Lyft drivers don't become free from oppression; they just have to apply to some (presumably) marginally shittier job instead. So even if you think that working for Uber and Lyft is as bad as being enslaved, Uber and Lyft disappearing isn't abolishing it, unless that came to be by way of new systems and regulations that made all jobs better.

(For example, VCs deciding to refuse to fund unprofitable companies would not obviously help. Perhaps AB5 would.)
posted by value of information at 11:49 PM on September 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


If you really want to get into why Uber and Lyft have been losing so much money, you'll need to know that until very recently they were essentially giving away the use of a car (in the form of a high mileage lease) in exchange for a reasonable-sounding minimum weekly work schedule. If you were in the market for a leased car, unless you had stellar credit and didn't expect to drive much, signing up as a driver using their lease program and then just never driving (and thus having to pay the lease payment yourself) was still cheaper than any deal you'd get elsewhere.

While they aren't doing that any more, the ongoing cost of the leases that are yet to expire continues to eat up cash. That's but one way in which they've been showering mostly poor people and recent immigrants in money. As shitty as they are, it has been a windfall for many of the people they also exploit.
posted by wierdo at 11:54 PM on September 18, 2019 [5 favorites]


Regarding tax-financed public transport, a couple of years ago after a decade-long debacle in introducing a new ticketing system, it was claimed that Oslo public transport authority Ruter spent more money selling tickets than it actually pulled in. So in addition to certainly increasing ridership, maybe they would have been better of financially not trying to sell tickets at all.
posted by Harald74 at 12:07 AM on September 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


Uber is not currently operating their services in the Norwegian market, BTW, after a series of busts of drivers for not reporting taxable income and not paying VAT, in addition to fines to the Uber company itself for breaking the Transportation Law. So after losing in court they put their services on hold in 2017.

Their web site has this slightly pouting text: "When Norway gets new and modern regulations, we will return with an affordable transport option. "
posted by Harald74 at 12:14 AM on September 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


>Taxi companies can't get cabs to fares quickly enough to satisfy customers. Been there...

Uber/Lyft can do it, but only while bleeding money at a level that if it were blood they'd both be dead by now.

Serious question...

How do we bridge that gap?


Serious answer: nationalize the app-based cab companies and fund them out of tax receipts. Transition over time from costly individual transit to less-costly mass transit, as the companies themselves are already starting to do.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 4:09 AM on September 19, 2019 [7 favorites]


However, those cheering for the demise of these services should realize what a godsend they have been for so many people who have not been well served by public transportation and traditional ride services like taxi cabs. The life of one of my friends who is legally blind has been transformed, for example. Her mobility was quite limited.

Counterpoint... we bought my partner's mother a Lyft gift card because she has failing eyesight and doesn't drive well anymore. She tried it immediately. Once. Bad experience with a driver that was unprofessional and had a dirty car, and that was it.

Lyft and Uber brought a few good things to the table for users, but they're at the expense of professionalism of drivers and any sort of protection for workers. Instead of whipping up a VC-funded scam to erode worker protections and destroy public transport and taxi systems, maybe we could just... fix the existing stuff and keep things like worker protection and regulation?

Uber and Lyft were not developed to solve your friend's problems, they were an attempt at a business model that avoids all the inconveniences of things like infrastructure investment and paying workers. Sure, they can be more convenient but that's a side effect.

Let's try to fix existing systems and make them work given the data we have rather than just saying "let's spin up something new that makes things worse in other areas!"
posted by jzb at 4:42 AM on September 19, 2019 [5 favorites]


> Are we sure Uber isn't some kind of money laundering scheme?

The Producers but with Camrys.
posted by glonous keming at 4:50 AM on September 19, 2019 [8 favorites]


jzb, it’s unfortunate that your partner’s mother had a bad first experience, and therefore never tried again. My friend has used Uber or Lyft hundreds of times (and I dozens) without incident, and these services have transformed her life. So perhaps another try by your partner’s mother is in order. I say this not to defend Lyft, but to help someone in need.

Probably all of us can point to bad experiences with something new, especially in in transportation (taxis, buses, subway, flying). Had those experiences unlikely been our first ones, would we give up?
posted by haiku warrior at 5:20 AM on September 19, 2019 [3 favorites]


Uber also spends a ton of money on software engineers. There have been a few reports that political infighting have made their software development inefficient.

Anecdotally they also seem to maintain crazy discounts in US coastal cities.

I live in New Orleans, and a comparable Uber ride is more expensive here than in SF, NYC or Boston. Even LA is crazy cheap: I'm pretty sure I've ridden from Venice Beach to the Roxy on the Sunset Strip, with obligatory long traffic delays, for roughly the cost of a 3 mile, 12 minute ride from my house to the French Quarter. In Boston, I've ridden from like Central Square, Cambridge, to Everett for under $10.

Other non-coastal cities I've visited were also seemingly pricier, despite a lower cost of living and seemingly far lower cost of car ownership. I think even Chicago is noticeably more expensive than SF/NY. I can only speculate they're keeping prices low in certain markets for political reasons, or maybe to recruit programmers?
posted by smelendez at 5:25 AM on September 19, 2019 [3 favorites]


If there's unlimited drivers, well you have a lot of empty taxis gumming up the roads driving up the roads looking for fares, using gas and making pollution, and it has a real impact on the city, while providing pretty little incremental value.

And this is, indeed, pretty much what happens in cities that Uber and Lyft expand into. Road congestion has gone up in all of them that I'm aware of.
posted by tobascodagama at 5:30 AM on September 19, 2019 [9 favorites]


Mardi Gras in the last few years was infested with cars in a way i've never seen in my life. I couldn't understand who in their wildest mind would be driving during carnival, until i thought of all the california cabs out looking for fares. nuts.
posted by eustatic at 5:41 AM on September 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


For those interested in a deeper dive (and a wild story of techbros being techbros), I highly recommend Mike Isaac’s new book, Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber.

I think that Uber and Lyft are horrible companies that should burn to the ground, but they undeniably tapped into a real need. Even if they start charging sustainable prices, algorithmic scheduling and app-based hailing and payment are real wins. The problem is that those innovations aren’t worth billions in VC funding and huge disruptions of existing jobs.

(In my ideal world, these services would be run directly by the local public transit authority. Any real-world mass transit system will inevitably have some gaps in scheduling, accessibility, service areas, etc. If for whatever reason you really need an on-demand ride, you should be able to schedule and pay for it through the same org that runs the trains...)
posted by a device for making your enemy change his mind at 5:41 AM on September 19, 2019 [12 favorites]


. In NYC it's a more convenient option than the train

I take Lyft here in Milwaukee sometimes, when a bus wouldn't get me there and I don't want to drive. But Lyft in New York? Maybe out in the further reaches of Brooklyn or Queens, where nary a green cab can be seen, but taking Lyft in the nations best cabbing city borders on some kind of sin, to me.
posted by dis_integration at 5:50 AM on September 19, 2019


Because of subsidized low fares we've been taking Lyft to and from the airport instead of regular cabs, and the "rideshare" process is way way way less efficient than the traditional taxi-stand. People standing around waiting for cars, and cars standing around waiting for passengers. But when Lyft is giving you a $60 ride for $30 it's hard to say no.
posted by muddgirl at 6:42 AM on September 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


I think that Uber and Lyft are horrible companies that should burn to the ground, but they undeniably tapped into a real need.

This is particularly true in suburban and rural areas where public transit is limited to non-existent, cabs are rare and often unscrupulous in their pricing and drunk driving is rampant.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:43 AM on September 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


> So how long til California walls itself off and says sayonara USA, it was nice knowing ya but it just ain't working out anymore? 5-6 years?

I hear this every once in awhile and find it a strange notion. What about California's pushback to federal policies makes anyone think that they're going to split off? They're responding to perceived federal government overreach or underreach, that's...like...part of the point of having state governments.
posted by desuetude at 7:01 AM on September 19, 2019 [7 favorites]


Taxi companies can't get cabs to fares quickly enough to satisfy customers. Been there...

Uber/Lyft can do it, but only while bleeding money at a level that if it were blood they'd both be dead by now.

Serious question...

How do we bridge that gap?


I've always wondered: if Uber et al actually charged fares similar to taxis while still providing the level of service you get from them now, how much demand would that gouge out of the market? Are people attracted primarily by the convenience and the price is just the cherry on the sundae or is it primarily the price and the convenience is an added benefit.

I'm probably bang in the middle of Uber's primary market -- I'm neither rich enough not to care how much I spend on transportation nor poor enough to need to take a car service to get to a job I can't reach any other reasonable way. I don't have a car, but I could if I prioritized it. I could afford to take taxis all the places I take Uber, but I'm not sure I would even if they were reliable because it would be a much bigger cut of my budget. But maybe I would -- I do use taxis instead of Uber when there's a cab stand nearby and I can just grab one.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:02 AM on September 19, 2019


Lyft, Uber, and DoorDash have warned that they were each ready to spend $30 million on a ballot initiative to overturn AB 5.

It's always telling how much more companies are willing to spend to screw their workers rather than paying them. Ugh.

I used to travel for work and for a while it might have made sense to use these apps, but I never took it up because I know that "independent contractor" means "the driver doesn't have appropriate insurance for passengers, so if there's an accident you're fucked."
posted by bile and syntax at 8:06 AM on September 19, 2019 [10 favorites]


being an Uber or Lyft driver is a far cry from the dirty unsafe factory jobs of the early 20th century

They're working on it.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 8:06 AM on September 19, 2019 [4 favorites]


So how long til California walls itself off and says sayonara USA, it was nice knowing ya but it just ain't working out anymore? 5-6 years?

I thought that was not legally possible?
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:40 AM on September 19, 2019


Are people attracted primarily by the convenience and the price is just the cherry on the sundae or is it primarily the price and the convenience is an added benefit.

Livery is heavily price sensitive - it's why the main livery market is bifurcated between the rich (who are price-insensitive) and the poor (for whom limited use of low end livery can supplant car ownership in cities.)
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:44 AM on September 19, 2019


I thought that was not legally possible?

Indeed. There was a whole big war about it, as I recall.
posted by tobascodagama at 8:44 AM on September 19, 2019 [4 favorites]


being an Uber or Lyft driver is a far cry from the dirty unsafe factory jobs of the early 20th century

Being a taxi driver is not exactly the safest job around. The probability of being assaulted or murdered or fatal injury is much higher than other jobs. And if you are injured on the job, you are not entitled to workers compensation to pay the medical bills. As a contractor you are on your own.

Here's the kicker. Uber provides zero safety training for their drivers, either for driving or for how to handle potentially dangerous riders. They inspect your car, download the app to your phone and that's it. Minutes later you are on the road with no instructions or training at all. That is because under federal regulations, if you provide safety training or work instructions to a worker, they are considered to be an employee. Uber is deliberately unsafe because it saves them money. The driver bears all of the risk.
posted by JackFlash at 9:05 AM on September 19, 2019 [21 favorites]


It's amazing what rebranding can do for a product. Instead of being an "underemployed corporate serf" you are now an "empowered participant in the gig economy"!

Kudos to Cali for fighting back. May they continue to lead the way and drag most of the rest of the country along in their wake. Hopefully, the regressives in power won't find another waiver to revoke to undo this victory of, by, and for the people.
posted by Godspeed.You!Black.Emperor.Penguin at 9:27 AM on September 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


Being a taxi driver is not exactly the safest job around.

It's a little safer than sex work or being a clerk at a liquor store, but these are very low bars.
posted by bile and syntax at 9:45 AM on September 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


Uber claims their drivers are independent contractors but they do everything possible to make sure their "independent" contractors can't work for anyone else.

You can run both the Lyft app and the Uber app on your phone at the same time, but if you pull Lyft up into foreground to check on possible rides, Uber automatically takes you out of driver mode on their platform, cutting you off from Uber.

And if you pick up a ride on Lyft but forget to log off of Uber, Uber will penalize you for failing to accept rides and cut you off.

Uber treats drivers like they own them and don't want them working for the competition. That is anything but "independent contractor."
posted by JackFlash at 9:47 AM on September 19, 2019 [11 favorites]


But yeah, taxis in my neck of SF are really unreliable, and I hope AB5 means the wonderful people who get me home at night occasionally are paid appropriately, even if it makes it more expensive for me.

This point has always sealed the deal for me on how truly committed to being evil, greedy, capitalist pigs the leadership of both Uber and Lyft must be. I mean, they could have easily, EASILY, added an option for you to select an Uber Cares or Lyft Driver Plus option where you could pay an extra dollar or two for your ride but know that you're riding with a driver that will get healthcare and paid time off instead of an independent contractor. And a lot of people would pay for that, and one of these companies could have really cut into the other's market share by being the first one to start doing this.

Instead both companies poured untold millions into lobbyists' pockets trying to fight this bill. Literally fighting to make sure they could keep their workforce in this shitty loophole where they didn't have to treat them like, you know, human beings.

Fuck em right off into the sun.
posted by allkindsoftime at 10:22 AM on September 19, 2019 [7 favorites]


these services have transformed her life

right, and when it's her only option but it costs 3x as much then her life is going to be worse off than it was before. the temporary good that they do is not going to outweigh their societal costs in the long run, especially to those who are the most vulnerable to abuses, but as i said above, i understand choosing to take that risk bc [gestures broadly to all of human society in 2019].
posted by poffin boffin at 10:25 AM on September 19, 2019 [4 favorites]


> I mean, they could have easily, EASILY, added an option for you to select an Uber Cares or Lyft Driver Plus option where you could pay an extra dollar or two for your ride but know that you're riding with a driver that will get healthcare and paid time off instead of an independent contractor.

Hilariously, Uber used to charge a $1 "Safe Ride Fee" to pay for "an industry-leading background check process, regular motor vehicle checks, driver safety education, development of safety features in the app, and insurance." Unfortunately, this was a pure cash grab which had nothing to do with safety. They pocketed an extra $450 million from the surcharge, but were sued over it. Uber settled for $30 million. They call it a "booking fee" now instead.
posted by fragmede at 11:24 AM on September 19, 2019 [6 favorites]


Lyft and Uber brought a few good things to the table for users, but they're at the expense of professionalism of drivers and any sort of protection for workers.

I don't know what taxi utopia you live in but around here most of them drive busted rear wheel drive boats with plastic seats, bad brakes, tires and missing seat belts. The drivers are sketchy, not locals (they cant find anything), often questionably sober, fairly regularly arrested for assaulting female passengers and almost all of then have a sideline in selling dope and driving hookers around. Uber costs MORE here because it's nicer and the drivers are usually students or retirees and they wash. I don't think that's atypical for low income areas and second and third tier cities.
posted by fshgrl at 12:18 PM on September 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


Uber doesn't even do that. They won't tell the driver the destination until they actually accept the ride. Then they are stuck no matter what.

This explains why I had a lot of non-cancellation cancellations, where the drivers would call me and tell me to cancel, thus me having to pay a fee, which I wouldn’t do because I still needed the ride, and they wouldn’t cancel for like 20 minutes.
posted by corb at 12:27 PM on September 19, 2019 [3 favorites]


Uber costs MORE here because it's nicer

Keep in mind that Uber was the company that created a database scraper their tech bros called "Ride of Glory" to track single women who Uber dropped off late at night and picked up at the same location a few hours later.
posted by JackFlash at 12:32 PM on September 19, 2019 [3 favorites]


where the drivers would call me and tell me to cancel, thus me having to pay a fee, which I wouldn’t do because I still needed the ride, and they wouldn’t cancel for like 20 minutes

that's creepy as fuck bc if they do eventually show up now you're stuck in a car alone with a strange man who is angry at you. ugh.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:46 PM on September 19, 2019 [11 favorites]


I've been thinking about this thread a lot! Because I totally agree with all three of these statements:

1. This is a genuinely useful service that fills a lot of gaps for people who had limited or no transportation options.
2. The organizations providing these services are scammy as all hell and screw over their workers.
3. It would be better to fill those gaps with public transportation in many or most cases, anyway.

Ultimately I think Uber/Lyft are symptoms of decades of criminal underinvestment in public transportation, which is not a problem that can be fixed overnight. My best-case scenario would be to increase regulation on rideshares while beginning long-term investments in public transportation and make them less necessary. (In NYC, that regulation will basically have to include limiting the number of rideshare vehicles, because they increased congestion by almost 10% over like three years, which has made our already-the-slowest-in-the-nation bus network even slower.)

But as much as I want the US to move away from car culture, right now I actually kinda see rideshares as a potential gateway drug to public transportation. As mentioned upthread, for example, ridesharing has changed LA's culture by making it much more possible to get drunk at a bar and then get home without endangering anyone. That's not to mention all the examples of people with limited mobility or driving ability who have been helped by rideshares. I think that if they try to pull the long-term scam of "drive other options out of business and then jack up the price," the result will be a lot of people who are suddenly much more willing to support transit projects, because they have gotten used to not having to drive themselves and won't be able to afford the new pricing.
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:08 PM on September 19, 2019 [9 favorites]


At least with the Lyft driver app, I know drivers hack being able to see a ride's destination by getting close to the pickup point and then telling the app they've arrived even though they're still a block away. Then they can zoom out on the map and see where the ride is going, and cancel and drive off without ever having to deal with the customer. They have to keep their cancellation rate below 10%, but a lot of drivers use this to get high volumes of short rides in order to meet bonus tiers. It sucks that they have to hack the system just to get by, but they're already the ones on the losing end of these transactions.
posted by allkindsoftime at 2:10 PM on September 19, 2019 [3 favorites]


Those shenanigans about ride selection and hiding info from drivers strike me as a thing that's going to make it difficult for Uber to argue that drivers are independent. If you can't pick and choose the work that you do (and the price you do it for) you're not all that independent.

On the other hand, I live in Ottawa and work in Gatineau and many Uber drivers hate going to Gatineau, so some mornings, those shenanigans are the only reason I get to work on time. I usually tip the drivers who take me there -- but of course the don't know that in advance. (I assume.)
posted by jacquilynne at 2:24 PM on September 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


They probably should know, jacquilynne, since they can see your rider rating. (Which we thankfully can see now, rather than having some unknowable number invisibly influencing drivers' attitudes toward us)
posted by wierdo at 2:31 PM on September 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


All the talk of Uber/Lyft supplanting public transit reminds me of this article about Innsfil, ON where the town did exactly that: got rid of buses and used the money to subsidize Uber rides (spoiler: it's not a success story exactly).

More on the topic of AB5, the real kicker about treating drivers as employees is probably less about benefits (since those can be limited by keeping people part time) but rather about guaranteeing an hourly wage for the time spent on call "in the app". From interviews with drivers, current practices make actually hourly compensation (after expenses) pretty low unless you can rely on tips or work in a high demand area. Not the mention the business logistics of having to now schedule when and where people can be on call because you don't get driver's idle time for free any more.
posted by 3j0hn at 2:57 PM on September 19, 2019 [3 favorites]


More on the topic of AB5, the real kicker about treating drivers as employees is probably less about benefits (since those can be limited by keeping people part time) but rather about guaranteeing an hourly wage for the time spent on call "in the app".

It also has a lot to do with taxes. Part time drivers probably pay very little income tax or social security taxes because, after deducting the IRS standard mileage expense, they have very little taxable income. But if drivers are employees, they pay income and social security tax on their gross income and their expenses are reimbursed by Uber. That's probably good for drivers in the end.

This is really bad for Uber because presently expenses are paid and deducted by the driver, but as employers, Uber would be paying and taking the expense deduction. But because Uber has no profits, that deduction is useless to them. The expenses just come right out of their own pockets instead of the drivers.
posted by JackFlash at 3:21 PM on September 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


It would be better to fill those gaps with public transportation in many or most cases, anyway.

I think the real problem with this is I'm just not sure this is even possible. Even assuming massive amounts of funding.

Like, for example. What's one of the biggest things people use Uber/Lyft for? Getting around late at night, when public transportation isn't available. (Leaving aside myriad other factors, focusing on this one). Why isn't public transportation available for this? Largely because there's not much ridership for these times, and the ridership that does exist is all going to different places. (Think of, for example, folks coming out late night at an airport, who are coming in at the same time, but will need to get to a lot of different homes).

How does public transportation solve that problem, especially in cities that didn't create the infrastructure for subways early?
posted by corb at 3:29 PM on September 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


At least with the Lyft driver app, I know drivers hack being able to see a ride's destination by getting close to the pickup point and then telling the app they've arrived even though they're still a block away. Then they can zoom out on the map and see where the ride is going, and cancel and drive off without ever having to deal with the customer.

Ohhh. This has totally happened to me but I didn't realize it!
posted by showbiz_liz at 3:30 PM on September 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


Re taxes: the employee/contractor distinction for federal tax purposes is not subject to state law, and therefore remains governed by the traditional totality-of-the-circumstances multi-factor nightmare.

AB5, like the Dynamex decision it codifies, is limited to the areas that are under state control -- wage and hour claims, unemployment insurance and the like. (Presumably state taxes as well?) It is possible to be an employee for wage-and-hour purposes and not for federal tax purposes, and that may indeed be where many California gig workers find themselves post-AB5.
posted by shenderson at 3:41 PM on September 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


I'm definitely not totally anti-rideshare, and very low-density areas are one of the reasons why. However, I do want to push back on this point:

Why isn't public transportation available for this? Largely because there's not much ridership for these times

When buses are consistent enough and frequent enough that people can rely on them to do things, ridership goes way up.

I'm speaking from direct experience here as well as from general transit nerd info. My hometown's bus service had low ridership when I was growing up... because buses came once every hour, usually early or late, and shut down at maybe 8 or 8 pm, and would take you 90 minutes for a 20 minute driving trip. But that low ridership didn't mean there was low DEMAND - it just meant that the service was astonishingly awful.
posted by showbiz_liz at 3:44 PM on September 19, 2019 [13 favorites]


Also:

How does public transportation solve that problem, especially in cities that didn't create the infrastructure for subways early?

Bus rapid transit can be implemented quickly on existing roads, is MUCH cheaper than a subway, and can be adjusted or expanded as needed. Combine a decent network of these with park-and-ride lots on the edge of town, to draw in riders from less dense areas, and any transit-poor city in America could probably quadruple their bus ridership overnight.
posted by showbiz_liz at 3:50 PM on September 19, 2019 [5 favorites]


When buses are consistent enough and frequent enough that people can rely on them to do things, ridership goes way up.

*banging on table*

THIS!! THIS RIGHT HERE!!!
posted by soundguy99 at 4:18 PM on September 19, 2019 [8 favorites]


As Vorpal Bunny said upthread, this isn't going to go into effect as scheduled because the gig companies will spend whatever it takes to get an initiative on the ballot.

And while I don't have much sympathy for Uber and Doordash and etc., there a lot of actual freelancers — creatives, coders, consultants, etc of various stripes who didn't have a cohesive enough industry lobby to get them a carve out— who don't want to be part time employees of fifty different companies, but are in the unfortunate position of doing Activity X for lots of companies whose core enterprise also involve a lot of Activity X, and want to outsource some of it.

To continue, they may be forced to create personal S-Corps or LLCs to operate on the same business to business basis they had previously, but will suffer increased overhead and potentially increased taxation in order to escape the well-intentioned mandate and preserve their ability to work for themselves. That could happen with Uber — there's no reason to think they won't do whatever they can to shift the costs to the drivers, rather than the riders, if they can't get around it.

I wanted a law like this to pass, but I'm not sure about the one we got.
posted by snuffleupagus at 4:54 PM on September 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


Why isn't public transportation available for this? Largely because there's not much ridership for these times

When buses are consistent enough and frequent enough that people can rely on them to do things, ridership goes way up.


This is the thing, right. You could have an on demand public rider service using diesel hybrid minibuses just like UberPOOL. You wouldn't need routes or timetables. You ping the service, it says the bus will be there in x minutes, you walk down to the main arterial and the bus picks you up, takes you along using a hybrid car pool/bus arrangement. I've driven for Uber and they have the tech to make this work. Why someone hasn't worked out the logistics of this is beyond me.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 5:00 PM on September 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


AB5, like the Dynamex decision it codifies, is limited to the areas that are under state control

Not that simple, employers have to pay into Medicare and Social Security.

It is possible to be an employee for wage-and-hour purposes and not for federal tax purposes, and that may indeed be where many California gig workers find themselves post-AB5.

Given that the business to business carve out in AB5 is the only way around it if you aren't in an exempted field (it's not confined to the coverage of the former wage orders, as was Dynamex), an increased tax burden could come from "double taxation" of company and personal income. Loosely speaking, you have to get to a certain size before it becomes advantageous to be a company instead of a sole proprietorship, and it requires more sophistication.
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:05 PM on September 19, 2019


PS: The B2B carveout theoretically permits sole proprietorships to qualify (see §2, subdivison [e]) , but later on says it shall not apply to an "individual worker rather than a business entity," so on first impression I'd expect a lot of businesses looking to safeguard themselves to require some kind of separately existing company, and require payment to that company under its TIN/EIN rather than the worker's SSN.
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:34 PM on September 19, 2019


Sole proprietors can get an EIN.
posted by muddgirl at 5:47 PM on September 19, 2019


Yes, that's true. Forgot about that. It's something, but I wouldn't be surprised if the default move is require proof of company registration.

My reservations aside, I think this is a positive thing politically.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:10 PM on September 19, 2019


A sole proprietorship is by definition a business entity. You don't need an EIN. You can use your SSN but as muddgirl points out, if you want, you can get an EIN from the IRS online in 5 minutes for free.

You need a business license from your local city or county which typically costs $50 to $100 per year. That's it. You are a business entity. For most people accustomed to being legitimate contractors, AB5 changes nothing. You can continue doing business as before working for clients.

This mainly affects companies like Uber and Lyft that were obviously flouting the law. AB5 simply clarifies the law making it harder to exploit ambiguities in the federal law.
posted by JackFlash at 6:20 PM on September 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure I agree that a sole proprietorship is a business entity, per se. It's a form 'business organization' — the kind you have when there's no separate entity. The part of the b2b provision that makes it problematic, if it is, is that part about not applying to individual workers. Having a formal S-Corp or LLC is a brighter line (that is, if you're a solo freelancer)...

As to the rest, I guess we'll see how it shakes out. I'd expect it to cause issues beyond rackets like Uber and its ilk. If it doesn't, I'm all for it. (I'm for it anyway, just with reservations.) But I'd point to the industries that felt the need to lobby to get themselves carve-outs as evidence that the language may apply more widely.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:33 PM on September 19, 2019




Here are the words from AB5:

.. the holding in Dynamex do not apply to a bona fide business-to-business contracting relationship, as defined below, under the following conditions:
(1) If a business entity formed as a sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company, limited liability partnership, or corporation (“business service provider”) contracts to provide services to another such business ...

They clearly define a sole proprietorship to be a business entity. I don't see how it could be any clearer. There is nothing about "individual worker" excluding a sole proprietorship.
posted by JackFlash at 6:44 PM on September 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


Scroll down, past all the qualifications.

(2) This subdivision does not apply to an individual worker, as opposed to a business entity, who performs labor or services for a contracting business.


It's not that sole proprietorships can't qualify, but since they don't have the same formally separate and easily verifiable legal existence, a solo freelancer doing business as a sole proprietorship would seem to be riskier to hire under this regime if you are a contracting business and want to be safe.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:00 PM on September 19, 2019


doing business as a sole proprietorship would seem to be riskier to hire under this regime if you are a contracting business and want to be safe.

Seem to be has nothing to do with it. AB5 clearly defines a sole proprietorship as a business entity. It says so in black and white - "a business entity formed as a sole proprietorship, partnership, etc".

An individual is someone who is not a business entity, that is, not a sole proprietor or partnership, etc. An individual worker is someone who doesn't run a business, doesn't have a business license, is just a laborer.

You may be getting confused by the IRS definition that a sole proprietorship is not a separate entity from the individual for tax purposes. That doesn't mean they aren't a business entity. The business entity and the individual are the same for tax purposes. AB5 recognizes a sole proprietorship as a business entity as they clearly state.
posted by JackFlash at 7:20 PM on September 19, 2019


Apparently freelancing writers are....not happy.

As one of the responding tweeters notes, the author of that tweet seems to be reading the law exactly backward -- as if anyone not included in the 35-item writers' exception (= new Labor Code 2750.3 (c)(2)(B)(x), AFAICT) were automatically deemed an employee. But not qualifying for that specific carveout just means your employer/contractee would be subject to the same ABC test as everyone else.

There may be some room for valid concern over whether the ABC test might be applied unreasonably broadly to freelance journo work, but I'm skeptical given the lack of reports of any such issues in Massachusetts or Delaware (or post-April-2018 California wage orders for that matter).

There has been some quality fearmongering over this law in the freelance translation community as well. Whatever C-of-C drone was tasked with stirring up confusion in the freelance community seems to have done their job quite effectively.
posted by shenderson at 7:28 PM on September 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


Apparently freelancing writers are....not happy.

It may not be as bad as it looks at first glance. Part c defines professional service contractors, of which freelance writers are one example. There is a list of criteria for consideration as a professional service contractor listed as A through F. This is the one they don't like because it limits them to 35 articles per year for each client.

But freelance writers could also be considered contractors under the business to business Part e. They would need to get a business license and satisfy the slightly more stringent criteria A through L. Getting a business license as I described above is no big deal. Then they would be free to contract as they like.
posted by JackFlash at 7:32 PM on September 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


What's one of the biggest things people use Uber/Lyft for? Getting around late at night, when public transportation isn't available. (Leaving aside myriad other factors, focusing on this one). Why isn't public transportation available for this? Largely because there's not much ridership for these times, and the ridership that does exist is all going to different places. (Think of, for example, folks coming out late night at an airport, who are coming in at the same time, but will need to get to a lot of different homes).

How does public transportation solve that problem, especially in cities that didn't create the infrastructure for subways early?


This specific one is not that difficult, really. The first thing is that the subways is a red herring completely; there are very few cities on Earth that offer any 24/7 subway or rail transit: New York, London, Chicago, Berlin and Copenhagen, this of over 500 cities with rail systems. This is because tracks need maintenance, detours are generally not possible, and working when the line is shut down is vastly more efficient; you can cut the power, you only need to load in and load out once per several hour shift, so almost everybody values the night shutdown.

Here's how public transportation can work for this; I'll use Vancouver as an example, as a auto-era North American city of medium size that nonetheless does a good job of transit. There is a bus hub in the downtown, within walking distance of most nightspots. On a regular schedule (every 20-30 minutes), buses leave this hub and mirror all the SkyTrain routes, as well as the most frequent routes. If you're going from suburb to suburb rather than starting in downtown you can transfer because the lines generally leave around the same time and stop in the same place.

Sure, everybody is going to different places, but this system does two things. First, Vancouver is a leader in transit oriented development, which means that a lot of people live near the SkyTrain stations and other transit centres, because a lot of apartments have been built there. So the area within 1.6 km (1 mile) of the SkyTrain stations is under 15% of the metro land area, but has 31% of all workers; the area within 800m (1/2 mile, about a 10 minute walk) has less than 4% of the land area, but 13% of all workers live there.* So you're providing a pretty good service to a decent chunk of the population just with this.

But let's say you live in suburban Langley, a low-density (by Vancouver standards) suburb at the edge of the metro and nowhere near the night bus route. A taxi from downtown would take about 45-50 minutes. You can take the night bus to the end of the line at Surrey Central -- it takes over an hour but only costs 3 bucks -- where taxis wait and where a trip home is maybe 20 minutes. You only have to pay half as much, so it's a win for you. The taxi driver wins; they probably make more money because they have a fixed cost to start the meter, and they are dealing with the quietly sobering up more than the amped-up-just-left-the-club crowd.

Most importantly, the taxi no longer has to drive empty for 45 minutes into downtown Vancouver, it only makes a 20 minute empty return, so a single taxi can serve more than twice as many people. One of the actual problems with night taxis is there's a big spike in demand, but taxi drivers don't like providing the service in general -- if not for the drunks, for the reasons few people like working at 3AM -- so there's no supply spike to match. Sure, there's not enough trips from downtown Vancouver to a specific house (or even neigbourhood) in Langley, but there's plenty along the corridor and plenty more if you add a taxi for the last few miles, rather than having everybody following each over in a cab for 90% of the trip, watching the meter go up.

All this costs money, but not a crazy amount. The total service cost for NightBus is around $4.3 million a year, and revenue is in the order of $2 million. Public transportation can be available for a lot of people, but it requires funding and long term vision -- having 30% of workers living near SkyTrain didn't happen overnight, it took decades of supportive land use planning.

* I used workers because it's what I have quick data on, not population; the share of population will be lower because there are fewer families with kids living near stations, but families with kids do less travelling at 3 AM, too. If I looked at 19-35 year olds, or lower income workers, it might be a greater share. I've also exaggrated SkyTrain coverage by just calculating a 800m/1600m radius and multiplying by the number of stations; there are areas (especially downtown) where multiple stations overlap, and where the radius includes water which is not included in the CMA total area. I'm also ignoring all the other night transit corridors which also have dense development, like Lonsdale, Broadway or the West End. So this is conservative math.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 11:38 PM on September 19, 2019 [6 favorites]


There are some pretty obvious arguments why Uber and Lyft drivers are not "independent business owners."

1) Businesses get to choose their clients. Drivers don't see names or descriptions - or even destinations - before they accept the job.
2) Businesses get to set their own rates.
3) They get to develop a rapport with regular customers/clients, and establish better rates, special concessions, or just offer additional services to the ones they like.

A Lyft driver can't say, "call me tomorrow at 9am and I'll take you to work." A Lyft customer can't say, "contact Bill if he's available." This is a very strong argument why Bill is not a business contracting with that client; if Bill and the client can't even talk to each other without the tech platform in the middle, it's claiming ownership of the business relationship.

(And this is likely to destroy Uber and Lyft, not because they can't make a profit on just being a communications interface, but because they can't make enough profit to address venture capitalist funding if they have to treat their workers like employees.)
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 12:02 AM on September 20, 2019 [5 favorites]


Seem to be has nothing to do with it. AB5 clearly defines a sole proprietorship as a business entity.

I don't want to go round and round on this, but bills can be poorly written, and ambiguities that won't be resolved until someone decides to sue later (i.e. an individual enticed to accept work under part (e) shows up later with a plaintiff employment lawyer) play into risk management decisions. Calling a sole proprietorship a "business entity" is common with financial types (including tax lawyers) but it is more accurately a "business organization" (which is the name of the law school class, fwiw). Sole proprietorships are simply not as legally distinct as true business entities.

That means it's much harder to tell, as an employer, which individual worker is a "bona fide" sole proprietor who can be safely hired as an IC for the purpose of the law. As versus looking up an LLC to make sure its in good standing. And the risk of getting that wrong falls on the employer. It has to, to prevent the exception from swallowing the rule. Otherwise, what, every Uber driver gets a business license and that's it?

From the way it's written, it's not clear to me that (2) couldn't be applied to straight out override (1) for people arguably employed in their individual capacity, even if they've set themselves up to be sole proprietors. To prevent exactly that end-run. Which is why the tricky case is the solo freelancer — a business with its own employees and etc but organized as an old-fashioned sole proprietorship is still more recognizably a separate business.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:31 AM on September 20, 2019


As a separate potential problem, I would think some of the requirements to be exempt under (e) are going could be tough for certain kinds of freelancing.

(A) The business service provider is free from the control and direction of the contracting business entity in connection with the performance of the work, both under the contract for the performance of the work and in fact.

Can you still work on an Agile team as a freelance coder? Can you still contract to be on-call or available certain hours as a remote worker? Can you be supervised in any meaningful way, and if not what kinds of freelancing will that kill?

(B) The business service provider is providing services directly to the contracting business rather than to customers of the contracting business.

Where is the line going to be drawn on providing a customer-facing function as a freelancer?

(E) The business service provider maintains a business location that is separate from the business or work location of the contracting business.

There's a loud silence on whether a home-based business will qualify under this prong. I haven't looked up the legislative history, but I can't imagine it wasn't considered. Likely there was no consensus so it's been left open to interpretation. What will apply? Cases decided under Borello? FTB/IRS standards? Who knows! Whee!

(G) The business service provider actually contracts with other businesses to provide the same or similar services and maintains a clientele without restrictions from the hiring entity.

Arguably, you have to make sure to maintain more than one active project, or it becomes dangerous to contract with you. Sucks if you're starting out and have no contracts with anyone.

It may be that you can't accept a long-term project by which you're practically monopolized by one company as a freelancer for an extended period.

You can't accept any kind of formal exclusivity term. That is going to be a problem for, say, talent agreements that need to be exclusive in some way for a term.

(I) The business service provider provides its own tools, vehicles, and equipment to perform the services.

You had better be able to afford to buy and maintain your own stuff if you want to work as an IC. Whether that's a lawnmower, or some fabulously expensive piece of tech or industrial gear. Seeking specialist work to be performed on the basis of your skill and experience, but using the hiring company's better, safer equipment that they are liable for and you don't have to maintain is a problem.

Some of this just formalizes the analysis that was done under Borello (although the way its written calls for Borello to be applied even after the conditions are met) but one of the things you want from a statute like this, ideally, is to clean up the ambiguities, infelicities and stumbling blocks of the precedent that has been in operation.

Since the gig companies are expected to spend as required to forestall the bill going into effect, it's possible that an improved version that better protects legit freelancers outside the exempted professions could wind up on the ballot alongside whatever gig companies gin up.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:30 AM on September 20, 2019


Look, maybe you are too young to remember but we went through all of this same contractor stuff 20 years ago with Vizcaino vs. Microsoft. Everyone said the sky was going to fall, cited all sorts of the same minutia as you have. A few employers were overly cautious at first and required contractors to jump through unnecessary hoops like S-corps.

And then it all settled down as normal with the most abusive relationships eliminated. And life went on. But if you were an employment lawyer, yes, it was fat city for a while as they exploited the fears of employers by providing them complicated contractor compliance consults. That quickly shakes out.
posted by JackFlash at 8:19 AM on September 20, 2019 [7 favorites]


Look, maybe you are too young to remember but we went through all of this same contractor stuff 20 years ago with Vizcaino vs. Microsoft. Everyone said the sky was going to fall, cited all sorts of the same minutia as you have. A few employers were overly cautious at first and required contractors to jump through unnecessary hoops like S-corps.

I am. Sounds interesting and relevant, I'll have to read up on it.
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:40 AM on September 20, 2019


People connecting the popularity of Uber/Lyft to substandard public transit are of course correct. What this leaves out though, is that shitty underfunded PT is part of their business model, or at least the most important contributor to its success. Their long-term goal is very possibly (probably) to burn VC money on insanely subsidized fares until they finally choke the life out of not just traditional taxi services, but publicly funded mass transit itself. If the Kochs aren't funding them they should be, because their end goals are perfectly in sync.

The continued existence and further decline of broken transit systems (and indeed of the very concept of public services, run by officials accountable to citizens rather than a cabal of shareholders) is vital to their profit margin. Transit that doesn't work, doesn't run on time, doesn't serve people's needs, isn't some immutable characteristic of publicly funded mobility services. It's the result of a political choice, over decades, to starve these services of the resources they need to function appropriately. Uber, at least in its current form, is a symptom of this problem, not a long-term solution.

God knows I'd rather that the people currently depending on Uber/Lyft as a lifeline have this solution in the short term, but legislatures can and should follow California in grabbing back the reins, and in short order.
posted by peakes at 1:33 AM on September 21, 2019 [5 favorites]


It's difficult to tell people to give more money to something specifically because it isn't meeting their needs and then trust it to start doing so.
posted by Selena777 at 8:08 AM on September 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


But it's also pretty ridiculous to say "people aren't using this shitty service, so why should we expect them to use a good service?"
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:45 AM on September 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


It’s difficult to tell people to give more money to something specifically because it isn't meeting their needs
Indeed, which is why planners and officials tend not to communicate that way about it when they’re serious about improving transit. Believe it or not, it is possible to design a network that responds to people’s needs and effectively communicate to voters how it will improve their lives/commutes/cities/what have you, but again that’s a choice leaders need to make (i.e., to lead).
posted by peakes at 10:26 PM on September 23, 2019 [2 favorites]


Unfortunately, several US cities have, in the past decade, seen politicians do exactly that while campaigning and then proceed to either completely ignore transit except for occasional mouth noises or even actively work against any and all service improvements, increases in budget, or new construction. And even when the public manages to get anything over the hump, does everything they can to kneecap the project, forcing interminable delays and repeatedly trying to downgrade the scope of the service, going around and around between which mode will be implemented, etc.

In the face of such intransigence, taken to the point of intentionally wasting any money the public forces them to spend on transit, by multiple officeholders who have claimed to be in favor of transit improvements, it's no wonder that people are reluctant to shovel more money onto the bonfire.

Thankfully, many cities have overcome the institutional opposition, even in relatively "red" areas, so there is reason to believe that the situation can be changed. In the meantime, it's all the more demoralizing for those of us in places where the political class are still busy bullshitting their constituents and squandering or (arguably illegally) redirecting the literal billions of dollars we gave them and continue to give them that was supposed to at least start cleaning up the mess.
posted by wierdo at 1:12 AM on September 24, 2019


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