Taxis vs. Uber

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

In the name of public safety, according to its sponsors, House Bill 907 in the General Assembly aims to regulate “transportation referral” car services such as Uber and Lyft, which use smartphone app technology to attract customers. Local cab companies support the legislation, saying it forces these new competitors go through the same permitting process, and red tape, as them. I spoke with the CEO of an Atlanta cab company for today’s column, while a local Uber manager gives that service’s side of the story.

Commenting is open.

Taxis: Level the playing field

By Tom Sabulis

As a third-generation cab company operator, Rick Hewatt of Atlanta Checker Cab spoke last week about a bill pending in the Gerogia Assembly that would regulate Smartphone app-driven car services such as Uber and Lyft:

On the new competition: I’ve worked here 30 years and I’ve seen competition come and go. By far this has been the most aggressive competition. Most other competition has followed the rules. But they just decided, no, we’re going to categorize ourselves as a technology company and not a transportation company; we don’t have to follow any rules based on that. They can say they’re a technology company but look at their advertising: They’re directly advertising as a taxi. What they’ve done from day one has been deceiving. Their goal is to disrupt this market. And they’re doing a good job at it. They’re a company that, by design, is out to disrupt our industry and steal as much as they can from it without following any rules and regulations. That’s their model.

On Uber and Lyft being “rideshare” businesses: They’re not a rideshare, they’re a taxi cab, that’s really what they are. They solicit for business. They dispatch the call. They charge based on time and mileage, just like we do. They can make all the claims they want but they’re glorified taxi cabs at best.

On how cab companies got the state to push legislation: We talked with (Rep.) Alan Powell and said something bad is going to happen. We don’t believe those companies have the proper insurance in place. We’re checked for those things; they are not. We do background checks on our independent contractors with fingerprinting. Thos other companies say, trust us. We’re doing a background check. But if they don’t fingerprint drivers, they didn’t do a proper background check.

On whether cabs are regulated too much: Maybe they are, but right now those are the laws that are on the books.

On what taxi regulations he would junk if he could: I would do away with flat rates. The pure definition of a taxi cab is a metered ride and that meter is calibrated to charge so much an hour and so much per mile. What the city did, based on the business community wanting this, was that they flat-rated certain areas, from the airport to downtown, airport to Midtown. Those flat rates have always caused confusion and trouble for us. I would certainly change that.

On the biggest complaint Atlanta taxis get: I think drivers not being willing to take their credit cards (but many do). All those drivers are independent contractors. The city doesn’t require that they take credit cards at this point. A driver could say a ride is cash-only, because they’re independent contractors. We can’t control the means, the manner or the method in which they operate. We’ve been working with the mayor’s office for the last two years to try and change some of these things. We’ve been working with the city council for almost seven years to try and get some reform. It keeps getting put off for whatever reason.

On misperceptions of the local cab industry: I think a lot of people are misinformed that we’re some sort of monopoly and this is a desperate grab to protect it. It’s really not that. Me, Checker Cab, having 140 permits out of 1,600 certainly is no monopoly. Secondly, we’re hardworking businessmen. You don’t stay in business 67 years by mistreating people. We’ve been doing something right. And I think we do a lot right. Ninety percent of our customers we pick up in 15 minutes or less.

On the chances of HB907 getting passed: You know I think it’s a starting point. I think it will morph into something else, which is fine. I think Uber and Lyft have a lot of money to burn. I think you’ll see it gives them unprecedented capability of lobbying and advertising. Plus it’s a false economy. They’ve got these millions of dollars people have invested in them, so they can deflate the market with that money until everybody goes out of business and then come back and charge whatever they want. I think there’s 101 questions that can be asked about why were they allowed to come in without anything and just start operating. We couldn’t do that in the cab business. I truly feel that the bill is trying to level the playing field and trying to address some public safety issues. It doesn’t prevent them from operating. But thus far they’ve just run amuck, without anybody challenging them.

Archaic bill aims to limit travel options

By Keith Radford

Atlanta is known for its hospitality, accommodating weather and love of innovation. It’s also home to some of the world’s largest Fortune 500 companies including Coca-Cola and Delta, making it a Southern city with a uniquely global reach. Yet Atlanta has become handcuffed by limited transportation alternatives. Traffic is a near constant reality, drunk driving is an ever-present threat, and paying for parking in Midtown is a tremendous chore. As a native Atlantan, I know how critical services like Uber are in solving the city’s large and growing transportation challenges.

However, some opponents of consumer choice would prefer to go back to the old way of doing things. The recently proposed House Bill 907, introduced by Rep. Alan Powell, R-Hartwell, stands in stark contrast to the technological innovation and progressive culture of this city. HB 907 would place restrictive regulations on apps like Uber that would make it nearly impossible for consumers to be able to rely on us for reliable, efficient transportation options. At the same time, it would limit the economic opportunity Uber provides to commercial and ridesharing driver partners alike. In the two weeks since he introduced the bill, Powell has lost two co-sponsors and has received an outcry of opposition, making crystal clear this bill isn’t right for Georgia.

Before Uber, getting a cab from Sandy Springs to Midtown meant a phone call followed by a potential 30-minute wait, and then you were lucky if the taxi took your credit card. Uber has turned that 30-minute wait into 5 minutes, added more transparency, and has made the need for cash obsolete.

Unfortunately, the people who want to go back to the old way of doing things aren’t just limited to the statehouse. As a recent report revealed, officials with the city of Atlanta have been meeting with owners of big taxi companies — on city property — to find ways to drive Uber out of town. That doesn’t seem like the forward-looking, innovative approach Atlanta is known for taking.

Uber partners with local transportation businesses to offer a safe, transparent and reliable ride — an option that did not exist before Uber. For our hallmark UberBLACK service, that means we are working with Atlanta’s best commercially licensed and insured transportation providers to deliver your stylish, luxury ride. UberX with ridesharing is the lowest-cost transportation option in Atlanta. Every uberX partner completes a stringent background and driving record check — more rigorous than what the state requires for commercial licensing. Every uberX trip is also insured under our corporate liability policy in the event of an accident, up to $1 million per incident. Riders also provide feedback on every trip as part of a 24/7 feedback system.

That unprecedented level of safety, transparency and accountability is entirely absent in the highly protected taxi industry, which has chosen not to improve customer service, safety and technology in decades. HB 907 puts forth archaic regulations that don’t reflect modern technology, seek to limit competition and ignore popular demand for services like Uber.

Atlantans want transportation options that are on par with the future of our amazing city. These options are good for consumers, who gain access to safe, affordable transportation alternatives; and drivers, who gain opportunities to make a sustainable living and grow businesses. Riders and drivers alike are demanding these alternatives. The future is not in anti-consumer legislation, but in the voice of Atlanta residents who want more options for convenient and hassle-free transportation.

Keith Radford is general manager of Uber Atlanta.

10 comments Add your comment

hs2094

February 19th, 2014
10:50 am

Uber is like using Craigslist to get a ride home from the airport, one step above hitch-hiking. What could possibly go wrong with that?

Tom M.

February 19th, 2014
8:48 am

As a former Atlanta taxi driver, I would like to refute the crazy talk put out about most drivers. The vast majority of licensed cab drivers in Atlanta are diligent, honest and hardworking people who strive to keep their cars clean, deliver their passengers quickly and safely, and enjoy the work. They do, however, regularly put up with obnoxious people who openly insult them (often times on racial and ethnic basis), make messes (including vomiting) in their cars, short change them, and so on. This is to say nothing of the great many drivers who have lost their lives after being attacked by passengers that, had they had the option, they might have refused.

It’s into this world that these new ‘tech’ companies come, claiming to bring something new, even if it is in reality a rush to a new system of Jim Crow and destruction of the gains of workers. I must say that these companies are working against the interests of not just the taxi industry but also the entire community. Our current system is not broken and the drivers and companies face a great deal of regulation within the city of Atlanta (though some of the suburban areas are different).

In Atlanta, taxi drivers can only refuse a passenger for two reasons: if the passenger is too intoxicated or threatens the driver. It is illegal (drivers will lose their license if reported) to refuse passengers on grounds of race, gender, sexuality, or income status. Similarly, even in extreme weather conditions, drivers are not allowed to alter prices or charge premiums.

Of course, the current system is not perfect: many drivers violate the rules and, for this reason, a division of the APD exists to monitor drivers and enforce the rules.

For Uber and Lyft, though, things are different: drivers can charge exorbitant fees without regulation and individual drivers can refuse _any_ passenger. In other words, these new companies allow racial and other forms of discrimination.

Shame on the AJC for not calling them out on this and shame on all the fans of these companies. Half a century ago, Atlanta had two taxi systems, one for whites and one for blacks. Allowing these companies into the market will soon take us back there: a regulated and licensed business that serves everyone and a second system that only serves particular demographic groups.

Atlanta’s taxi drivers and the city’s enforcement agencies are working very hard to build a system that serves both drivers and passengers — and works for ALL Atlantans. These companies seek to destroy that.

Jennifer

February 18th, 2014
6:08 pm

I am not so worried about riding in an Uber car as I am about getting ran over by one. Uber has yet to take responsibility for that poor little baby girl that was hit and killed in SF. Their insurance policy only covers you if you are in the car…watch out pedestrians because if you get hit by Uber your screwed! Calling Uber safe is absolute BS!

DaveSutton

February 18th, 2014
12:51 pm

Uber and Lyft are taxi companies. Across the country, reports are popping up that these companies possess inadequate insurance coverage with dangerous loopholes that threaten public safety. Uber’s background checks appear to be nominal to non-existent as multiple convicted-felon drivers have assaulted passengers. Uber and Lyft are taxi companies that use an app to hail a ride, rather than a phone. Let them abide by taxi regulations or change the existing regs for all taxi companies in Atlanta. This is not about blocking innovation. It’s about protecting people. One set of rules for all taxi companies will protect Atlantans and keep business fair.

SAWB

February 18th, 2014
12:11 pm

While I’m no fan of expanding government regulation I fail to see why these new providers should not be required to follow the same rules as existing companies. Yes, it’s cool and there’s “an app for that” and all that trendy stuff, but at the end of the day it’s the same service. I suspect there is plenty of opportunity for regulatory reform/reduction, but whatever is done should be applied fairly.

Chip

February 18th, 2014
9:46 am

Having ridden in taxi cabs in most major cities in this country, it’s really hard to have sympathy for cab companies in the metro Atlanta area. Every single time I have called a cab over the last twenty years, it’s arrived late. Nearly every time, the interior was nasty and smelled bad, with an odor that often lingered on my clothes. Several times, the driver took routes that I knew to not be direct, thereby running up the meter.

If Uber and Lyft kick the dinosaur cab companies in the rear end, it will be the fault of the cab companies for whining and making excuses, and running to Mommy and Daddy Government to “do something”…. instead of just getting their act together.

tim Williams

February 17th, 2014
7:44 pm

Let’s do this. Have legislators in jeans and maybe a tennis shirt ride in 5 taxi cabs this week. When they get the stink off of them, or see with their own eyes how taxi drivers are 100% OF THE TIME on a cell phone or texting, or honking the horn non stop … then take a ride in Uber. Atlanta taxi cabs are a disgrace. Not 100%, but closer to 75%. very few use GPS. They deserve to go the way of the dinosaure

Jim Warren

February 17th, 2014
5:21 pm

While I can sympathize with loss of market share. I believe the local cab industry would do well to spend their efforts at cleaning up their own act. The few times I have been in a cab in Atlanta it was dreadful…nasty, falling apart…not what I would want my Aunt to take to my home if she were flying in to surprise me. Moreover, before UBER came on the scene, I would often call clients to secure a taxi to airport from Emory. It took 25 minutes on average to get a cab, and they often get “lost”. How can you get lost when you are a taxi. The local taxi industry is running itself out of business with its poor service, dilapidated cars,etc. I agree that UBER and those like UBER should play within the law, so perhaps this effort will morph into some common sense revision of archaic and needless red tape laws that only result in putting money in the pockets of the city of Atlanta.

Edwina Moss

February 17th, 2014
4:31 pm

Tom, who hurt you?

Steve McDonald

February 17th, 2014
4:22 pm

Interesting debate. I have used Uber’s BlackCar service in many cities over the last 6 months. It is completely contrary to most of the caricaturization made by Rick Hewatt of Checker Cab. I have found it very convenient and know I will get a professional screened driver who is properly licensed and following all the rules set our wherever I am. They are independent drives as well.