Wednesday, January 27, 2016

More Uber & Lyft---The Story Has Only Become Stranger

Before I continue my examination of what King County and the City of Seattle is permitting the TNC (Uber and Lyft) industry to do, I first must greet you once again from the sunny environs that is San Miguel de Allende.  Today we ( I am here with "she-who-can't-be-named") walked alongside a desert river, napping on a sandbank on a 75 degree F. afternoon.  Prior to that we soaked in a thermal hot springs, the healing minerals telling me yet again that taxi driving is doing very little toward enhancing my physical health, hot water quickly addressing a sore and battered and fatigued body.

There are many Americans living here in San Miguel and area.  Last night dinner cost us $8.00 including tip.  There are many good reasons to make San Miguel and other parts of Mexico your permanent residence.  If circumstances allow I plan on living a least one full year in Mexico City.  I love that crazy, overcrowded city.  Very exciting place.  Saint Petersburg, Russia is another city I would enjoy living in.  Maybe someday I'll ask Putin for a personal invitation. I am sure he would be very accommodating. I believe he is still hosting the American gentleman who caused a small stir in that once secretive world of cyber-spying and listening in upon your neighbors.

In my last posting I said that Uber (and also Lyft) were paying for their driver's (theoretical independent contractors) for-hire licenses.  This point and others were confirmed by an email I received from King County's current Licensing Manager for KC's Records & Licensing Division, sum and part of King County's Department of Executive Services. If he doesn't know, no one does. The following quotes, I swear upon a stack of taxi regulations, are verbatim and completely accurate.

For those new to our local industry, King County serves as the City of Seattle's partner, jointly administrating licensing services for taxis, flat-rate for-hires; and now, the TNC (Uber and Lyft) companies.  Some of what he said explained why my friend has not received his required "for-hire" driving license even though many months have now passed since his first moment behind the Uber wheel.  What I found astonishing is that King County and the City of Seattle have, for unknown reasons, parcelled out some of their administrative duties to the TNC industry itself. This direct quote confirms this---"the burden of administrating the testing, training and background checking fall upon the TNC."

To me, and it might seem that way to you too, sounding like the proverbial "putting the fox in charge of the hen house."  Now I cannot say for sure that King County and the City of Seattle have totally abrogated their regulatory responsibilities to Uber and Lyft but given my friend's situation, there appears to be a suggestion of poor oversight. Just who is paying attention to all of the finer details?

And concerning for-hire fees, another quote addresses this issue---"To the driver, they are still subject to the same requirements as if they visit our office for licensing except for payment of the fees which are covered by the TNC they are on-board  with.  It is a different fee structure but fees are paid by the TNC."  One thing absent from this is any mention of driver reimbursement to Uber or Lyft.   Again I would suggest that this might put in question the separation that must exist in this type of vendor/independent operator arrangement.

What interests me, and I hope intrigues you, is just how did this kind of new and unique regulatory arrangement come into existence?  We in the taxi industry certainly do not hold this kind of freedom.  Also please understand that Uber and Lyft are new entrants into the transportation sector, with no previous operational track record proving they are capable and reliable partners.  Just how they earned this kind of trust is a mystery; and something worthy of an answer.

One question I have concerns TNC insurance coverage.  Is the TNC driver covered even though they do not have a legal for-hire license, all the while operating thousands of passenger-carrying miles without one?  If I was driving for either Uber or Lyft I would seek clarification ASAP.   There is also some question, due to classification, on who holds ultimate regulatory jurisdiction over TNC companies.  Is the responsibility local, or is it held by the State of Washington?

I predict that this potential bureaucratic "can of worms" will explode into a gigantic controversy if and when a serious accident occurs.  The lawyers might certainly have fun figuring this all out.  Could it even come to where we have the State Attorney General defending private companies in a court of law?   That is too bizarre of a situation to comprehend!  But given what I have been discovering, I am beginning to believe anything might be true.  Many politicians, City, County, State composed in part of what we now see manifested in front of us today.  You may have heard that "too many cooks spoil the broth."  Just who wrote this confounding recipe?

And again I wonder why the local media outlets haven't been more interested in this wild tale.  Just how did this all come about?   I know an answer exists.  The only question is, just who will answer it?   Again, is this only the beginning of the story, with many chapters yet to be reported?  Maybe.

Adios, amigos.  Stay dry!

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