Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Mayor Murray's Uber Solution, Municipal Comedy: An Analysis---Part One

Having now read and examined Mayor Murray's Taxi/For-Hire/TNC Mediation agreement, I have been fighting off astonishment, completely taken aback by a document that, while intended to be a final and healing resolution, fails, by all usual commonplace and known standards, to reach sensible compromise.  How a document this flawed was released for public discussion baffles me. 

I see my task as twofold, one to explain the agreement's components, the other to offer an understanding of how the document came into being.  My intention is to both be fair and precise minus unhelpful and empty rhetoric.  Rancor is easy but apperception, understanding new ideas and the consciousness behind decisions is a whole another story.  This examination is just that, an attempt at deciphering, bringing the back story into the forefront, making the confounding accessible.

Before examining individuals parts, I first have to question, given that the entire matter seemed to center around ride-share or TNC regulatory compliance, why were others parties, taxi etc, included in the first place?  It was the TNC companies and no one else who sponsored the now November 2014 referendum.  While the taxi industry hold their own interests, this argument was between Uber, Lyft and Sidecar and the City of  Seattle.  Not only was the inclusion of taxi and flat-rate for-hire issues not necessary, it was nonsensical to have them involved with this particular discussion.

From what I understand concerning this preliminary and yet non-binding agreement, it attempts to answer too many questions simultaneously, a reshuffling of the regulatory deck.  Need I point out that City Hall is not a casino and the issues faced not a poker game.  The issue was and remains basic.

 Uber, Lyft and Sidecar blatantly entered a business sector that is regulated on a municipal, county and state level, and probably in the case of some European countries, nationally, the TNCs disregarding standard and well-founded laws, rules and regulations governing taxis.  It was, and never has been, an issue of technology.  Instead it has been a question of rule of law, and why the TNC companies felt exempt. 

The efficiency of the entire taxi industry, one way or other, is a completely separate issue, one that needs to be examined.  But mixing the industries up, as I said, like a deck of playing cards, seeing who is dealt the aces, the winning hand, is something directly akin to something out of Lewis Carroll, surprising to me that the "Mad Hatter" and the "March Hare weren't invited to the party but given the results, perhaps they were there after all, only in some new and modern disguise, sipping some variety of mushroom tea.

Now a quick breakdown of some key agreement components:

Accessible Service

A 10 cents surcharge on all taxi, for-hire and TNC rides, designed to supplement the 40 WAT (wheelchair) vans currently operating, has been proposed.  What a sweet deal this is!  One, it gives the TNC companies the legal permission to not have to offer wheelchair service while providing WAT owners a free (under current estimates) $20.000 dollars per year to assist their operation.  What Mayor Murray and friends missed is that every taxi owner in the city will now convert their cabs to WAT vans, understanding that it is now a taxi Christmas beneath the municipal evergreen.  I thought I heard carols emanating from 5th & Marion!  Now I know why.

Adding to this fantastical quality, is that Uber, given their WAT exemption, will tell their favorite taxi company when someone has requested an accessible ride, the kind of service the taxi association MUST provide but not the TNCs.  One must ask, how did they come up with this agreement?

The long and short of it is that I must pay out of my pocket so the TNCs can avoid what is legally required of taxi companies.  I highly doubt that anyone, other than the WAT owners of course, would agree to this.

Fares

Another startling proposal is the creation of wht appears to be a new two-tiered rate system.  What Murray's agreement says is that ALL app arranged and generated fares from TNCs, taxis and flat-rate for-hires will be subject to variable pricing, meaning higher rates will now be permissible whenever the companies feel it is in their operational interest.  In short, just because you used your smart phone app  your  fare could be higher.  But if you use that same telephone to call the taxi company your fare will be or could be cheaper.  Huh?

Another part of this is that flat-rate for-hire cars will have full hailing rights but not able to sit on taxi stands.  Also ten new taxi stands are also proposed. 

Insurance

This has been the contentious issue all along, the TNCs seemingly not interested in ensuring that their passengers are protected in case of accidents.  For me, this is the scariest part of the agreement because it appears to let the TNCs operate with unrevealed and unknown insurance coverage.  This is how I understand the agreement:

During what is termed a provisional period, insurance requirements of, $100,000, $300,000, & $25,000 liability coverage will be required. Understand, this is part of the provisional period.  What coverage the Uber, Lyft and Sidecar currently have, as I have stated, appear to be unknown.

This provisional period will begin once an agreement is reached----ratified by the Seattle City Council----and ends on the effective date of State insurance law changes; or two weeks after the end of the 2015 legislative session, which in an odd-numbered year runs a total of 105 days which I don't think includes weekends.  At the conclusion of the provisional period, ALL operators must comply with State law. 

In terms of public safety, this all seems fairly suspect.  Given initial City Council response, this agreement appears to have little chance of becoming law.  What this appears to do is leave the current insurance question unanswered.  The question is simple. 

If someone, say tomorrow or any time in the near future is seriously injured while riding in a TNC car, what will be their ultimate fate?   Will their hospital and rehabilitation bills be paid?  Right now it appears it be unknown.  How can that be reasonable, and legal?   Part two tomorrow.



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