|She would never make it on the mean streets. She will stay with the craft beer drinkers and poor people suffer.|
"Led by companies like Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar, ride-sharing has rocketed into the mainstream in a relatively short time frame. Uber started up in San Francisco four years ago, and has since expanded to 128 cities worldwide. The company's most recent valuation came in at an eye-popping $18 billion. Uber founder and CEO Travis Kalanick has publicly stated that his company is doubling its revenue every six months.None of this is good news for taxi companies. In May, drivers protested outside Uber’s Boston offices calling for stricter regulations for ride-sharing companies. In London, an estimated 12,000 black cab drivers clogged the city’s to protest Uber’s presence. It backfired spectacularly, with London Uber sign-ups surging 850 percent in a week, according to the company. If the protests haven’t gained much traction, taxi industry advocates are hoping that safety concerns might. Their argument: By managing drivers as independent contractors and thereby sidestepping the costly training, background checks, and insurance regulations that taxi drivers are subject to, Uber is putting passengers at greater risk.“When we talk about public safety, talking about the passengers in the vehicle, the driver, but also people on the street,” says Dave Sutton, spokesman for the “Who’s Driving You?” campaign, based in Washington. Launched last year, “Who’s Driving You” is a marketing effort funded by the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association, which counts 1,100 licensed transportation companies among its members. “The insurance that Uber is providing has serious gaps that only move into the general awareness when something bad happens,” he says.The problem, Mr. Sutton notes, is that Uber drivers aren’t covered by an expansive commercial liability insurance that protects them while off the clock. Though the company expanded its insurance coverage earlier this year, Uber drivers still don’t have the round-the-clock coverage required for a commercial cab.“Who’s Driving You?” has also taken aim at Uber’s background checks, charging that the company’s screening easily allows convicted felons to slip through the cracks. “Uber does not submit to regulations, so they cannot use background checks that use FBI fingerprinting,” Sutton says. “They use private companies and cheaper background checks that are not as comprehensive.”But Uber spokesman Lane Kasselman calls such accusations “scare tactics,” by rich, multinational corporations. “Instead of improving customer service they’re complaining about opposition,” he says. “The taxi industry has decided to play dirty politics instead of compete.”Uber’s criminal background checks, Mr. Kasselman says, are as comprehensive as the law allows for business purposes. On the insurance end, he says that perceived gaps are due more to the fact that insurance regulations weren’t written with a company like Uber or Lyft in mind: "Insurance companies have obviously been around for decades, and they aren’t quick to adjust their products.”Requiring the round-the-clock insurance that Uber’s critics are demanding, he says, would be like “trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.”Still, concerns about coverage expand beyond the taxicab lobby. Since Uber drivers are independent contractors, rather direct employees, the company is not responsible for incidents that occur when a driver is off the clock, and what “on the clock” means has been a point of contention. After a San Francisco Uber driver en route to pick up a rider struck and killed a young girl last year, the company expanded its coverage to include the time between when a driver accepted a ride and when an actual passenger entered the vehicle.Some states want more: California has proposed a rule that would require ride share companies to cover drivers anytime the ride-share app is on. Uber has come out against such a rule, but is “for regulations, we just want them to be sensible and reflective of an evolving industry,” Kasselman says.Ride-share customers might have some complaints – Uber’s Boston Yelp! page has its fair share of bad reviews, mostly about high prices during peak times and drivers who occasionally get lost – but insurance liability and safety concerns are “not really” a priority, says Ms. Nation, the Uber user from Providence. She’s never felt uncomfortable or unsafe using the service, “and I’m a scaredy-cat.” Still, the Cambridge meeting raised concerns about Uber's more hands-off administration of its drivers. Sassy Outwater, a blind Cambridge resident, told the committee that app-driven transportation services like Uber are in many ways more convenient for the disabled community, but noted that she had been refused Uber rides on several occasions because of her seeing eye dog (which is illegal under the Americans with Disabilites Act)."