Uber putting everyone at risk

This past Halloween, a 26-year-old Baltimore woman was charged $362 by Uber for a 20-minute ride. After Uber charged her credit card, she couldn’t afford to pay her rent. Luckily for her, she was able to use crowd funding to raise money and escape from a bad situation.

Other Uber passengers have not been so lucky. After agreeing to Uber’s terms and conditions — which state “you may be exposed to transportation that is potentially dangerous” and that users must hold the company “harmless from and against any and all claims” — an Uber passenger was allegedly struck in the head by a hammer-wielding Uber driver. The Uber passenger may well lose his eye. The victim’s lawyer, attorney Harry Stern, now says Uber is trying to avoid liability for this incident. Obviously, due to the fact that the Uber passenger agreed to the company’s outrageous terms and conditions, Uber may have a leg up in avoiding responsibility in a courtroom.

Across the country, we’ve seen disturbing reports of Uber drivers allegedly kidnapping, raping and physically and sexually assaulting passengers. Many believe the reason for these numerous assaults is that Uber conducts cheap and ineffective criminal background checks that aren’t conducted by law enforcement agencies and don’t use fingerprinting. The San Francisco District Attorney’s office sued Uber to stop the company from telling passengers that its criminal background checks will keep them safe.

Uber has recently been accused of invading passengers’ privacy by sharing and leveraging user’s personal data. Uber has threatened to conduct “opposition” research against members of the press. Now, it is emerging that the company’s app collects excessive passenger “data” including text messages.

Imagine trusting your credit card information, your travel habits, your personal data, and your very life to such a company. Why would any passenger subject themselves to Uber?

As badly as Uber treats passengers, its behavior as a participant in for-hire vehicle industry is equally as atrocious. Uber makes vast sums of money in the transportation industry while claiming only to be a “technology” company. Employing a deceptive practice of cutting corners and transferring risk to drivers, passengers and cities, this multi-billion-dollar corporation reduces its cost basis and allows Uber to unfairly compete, under different rules, against licensed transportation companies.

Uber and its main competitor, Lyft, originally began calling their services “ridesharing” in an attempt to fool the public into believing they were similar to carpooling. The pretense was that passengers weren’t paying for a ride in a taxi, but rather paying for a ride from a new-found “friend” who happened to have a car.

The plain and simple reality is that Uber is no more “ridesharing” than any cab company is. Uber does everything a taxicab company does. It recruits drivers, takes requests for immediate rides from passengers, dispatches a vehicle to the passenger’s location, accepts credit card payment from passengers, and pays the driver. Despite conducting these classic taxicab activities, Uber refuses to admit that it is a for-hire vehicle company providing taxicab service.

Uber denies this obvious fact because money is at stake — a lot of money. The company has raised over $2 billion in venture capital funds.

But despite all of this money flowing in, Uber insists on evading the significant expenses of primary commercial auto liability insurance coverage, government-issued criminal background checks, regular vehicle inspections and meaningful driver training. These business costs — typical requirements for taxicabs throughout Maryland — are crucial for protecting public safety.

Uber’s claim to be merely a tech company — and not a transportation company — is utter nonsense and places the public at risk. Uber’s attorneys continue to fight the family of the six-year-old girl killed by an Uber driver in California on the defense that Uber is not a transportation company. Do taxicab companies have serious accidents? Yes, but they accept responsibility for the problems they cause and handle them transparently.

What is the solution? Simple: Cities and states must recognize that Uber is providing for-hire vehicle services and therefore must adhere to local laws overseeing such activity. We in the taxi industry are not asking for special treatment. We are simply asking that Uber not be allowed to thumb its nose at the law while continuing to make victims of the public and place our community at risk.

Taxicab companies in Maryland employ app technology. The trips are dispatched to licensed, commercially insured fleets with drivers and vehicles that have been properly checked out. So why can’t Uber do the same?

Uber continues to put passengers in harm’s way because of its outrageous business practices. No city or state should allow Uber to continue to do so. Uber is a for-hire vehicle company providing taxicab service. It’s time for Uber to own up to that fact.

—Dwight Kines is Vice-President of Yellow Cab of Baltimore, MD.