Time to Hold Uber to Same Standards as Traditional Taxis

Many years ago, all taxi cabs were unregulated. A person could just throw a taxi sign on their car and a new business was created. Problems developed, of course, because not everyone is trustworthy to drive a cab. Government started to regulate the industry to put a curb on the abuses.

In the movie Stripes, Bill Murray plays a cabdriver. In the opening scene, an obnoxious customer has many bags of luggage and treats him with disdain. He takes her on a ride around New York City—a long ride—and stops in the middle of a bridge, throws the keys in the river and walks away. Some people are just not meant to be cabbies.

Back to reality, taxicabs now have to deal with customers as well as compete with ridesharing companies like Uber, which is essentially a cab company on steroids.

Uber has already had its share of mishaps along the way. In 2014, Uber driver Syed Muzaffer struck and killed a 6-year-old girl. He already had a reckless driving conviction on his record. In June of the same year, UberX driver Daveea Whitmire was charged with battery. It turns out Whitmore had multiple felony convictions and was on probation for battery at the time of the incident.

There have been other Uber incidents: a passenger was choked; another driver went on a racist rant and attacked a patron; one woman claimed to be kidnapped—UBER blamed a bad route. All these stories can be found here or by simply Googling “Uber horror stories.”

The traditional taxi industry has been through many of the same incidents Uber is currently experiencing. And this is why the taxi industry is now regulated.

Local governments now do background checks, issues permits to drivers, takes their picture, gives them a number and regulates their fares—all because of the past abuses of a few. You can still get an excessively long cab ride, in which the route from point A to B has a few extra letters in between, but regulation has made the ride safer for the general public.

Due to the growing number of court cases, Uber has gone on the defensive. Its top-notch technology allowed it to work around the cab system, while “contracting” out for services drivers allowed the company to avoid an “employee” model. But a court recently struck down that business model, insisting that Uber does meet the definition of employer. The decision will cost Uber millions in taxes and employee compensation if it stands on appeal.

Here in Silicon Valley, the city of San Jose and Mayor Sam Liccardo have insisted that Uber do some minimal background checks and play by some of the same rules as existing cab companies. Uber is balking and utilizing its sizable revenue stream to hire lobbyists to make their case. (Full disclosure: I have worked with tax cab associations in the past but am not currently under contract with any company or association.)

In the final analysis, Uber won’t succeed in remaining free of regulation. The horror stories are sure to increase and their model, while utilizing new technology efficiently, is still basically a taxi service. Taxi drivers who currently play by the rules, as they pay permitting fees extracted by local governments, rightly see Uber as unfair competition.

Elected officials really have no choice but to regulate Uber in the interest of fairness and public safety. This was the reason the taxi industry was regulated in the first place.

Rich Robinson is an attorney and political consultant in Silicon Valley. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside.

53 Comments

  1. Does a person’s background even matter any longer? The county just included on its Blue Ribbon commission investigating the jail Mr. Rick Callendar, a person with a felonious assault in his background and a history of filing dubious charges against the police department.

    I’d take my chances riding with a random Uber driver over the thug-darling of San Jose political circles.

  2. Who would have thought a big Government Tax and Spend guy like Rich would call for more regulation… stifle business, stifle competition, stifle consumer choice and grow grow grow that government.

    • More likely someone in my family , your family, posters and readers families will be run over or otherwise victimized by an illegal… thanks Rich, Laurie, Rosen, moonbeeam… and all the rest.

      • You’re right. Damn illegals. I prefer my family and friends be be killed and ran over by real Americans. #Murica

    • Buyer beware, 6 year olds are being run over by a reckless uber drivers and people being assaulted by a felons!!! None of this happened before Uber!

      Driver runs over person = Driver’s fault
      Uber driver runs over person = Uber, a 50 country wide company’s fault.

      • Your comment suggests that, absent Uber, children would NOT get run over by reckless drivers and that felons would NOT assault people. And do you also mean to suggest that these sorts of incidents somehow do NOT occur with among taxi services/drivers? Background checks are one thing, but all of the additional layers of regulation are completely different – especially if it is Uber, itself that is conducting the background checks. If that is – or becomes – the case, then the government actually provides no meaningful services in the advancement of the business model which are not already being paid for by other forms of taxation. Unfortunately, the fact that cab services have to pay all these extra fees and are subject to so many additional layers of regulation is among the various reasons why more and more people are realizing that cab services are far less competitive with services like Uber and Lyft.

        And, that, I think, is the central premise of taxation: that there are certain services which are of nearly universal benefit to the citizenry that the citizenry – whether at the individual or corporate level – should share in the cost of its development or maintenance. Basically, these can – or should – be distilled down to three basic categories: management (local, state or federal government), infrastructure (e.g. highways, bridges, roads, water, power, sewer) and safety (law enforcement, fire protection, military, etc.).

        Moreover, my personal experiences with ride-sharing have been universally better than my experiences with taxis. Uber drivers seem to maintain a higher standard of care with their vehicles and, despite the occasional horror story promulgated online, my experiences with the drivers themselves have been universally better than with cabbies. They have driven more safely , behaved more personably, and handle luggage more carefully than any cabbie I have ever encountered. And ride sharing offers degrees of flexibility and coverage that are simply not available or affordable when using a taxi service.

        And, too, I would submit that the only similarity between ride-sharing services and taxi services is that third parties transport people. That’s it. The business models are quite different, and the use of technology in furtherance of the business model is also quite different, when comparing taxis to ride sharing.

        • I agree with you uber uses an app and taxi company uses dispatch system the end of the day both serve the public but taxi drivers have to be fingerprinted but uber does background check on line if you refer to Los Angeles times uber drivers who commute crime passed the background check since these criminals can use some one name and social security no.and upload there picture uber back ground check doesn’t identify the person .this is the sticking point

          • Prospective drivers get interviewed in person by representatives from Uber who inspect the vehicles, registration, insurance and licensing information.

  3. In Houston, after an uber driver raped an uber customer, the company agreed in doing to FBI fingerprint background check on each of their drivers and if you check the uber app for TNC drivers in Houston, there are directions on how to be fingerprinted. Do we want our city to ensure the safety of it’s citizens like Houston has? I urge the mayor to stick to what he said during his radio interview in August and that is that “Public safety comes first.” On November 10, the vote will take place on whether or not they’ll require Uber drivers to be fingerprinted and as the mayor stated, his main priority is public safety, so hopefully they’ll make the right decision to protect the residents of the city of San Jose.

    • Same logic could apply tow truck drivers. How about plumbers coming to your house at night? Or movers? The list is endless. Why are drivers singled out?

      • Just an opportunity for new regulation aka money. $50 BILLION company, that owns no cars, pays no fuel, doesn’t employ it’s drivers, and doesn’t pay for auto maintenance. Regulators just want a piece.

        It’s easy for regulators play to people’s fears.

        Why not welcome a future, sharing and peer-to-peer economies.

        Can’t it be as easy as, if have you irrational fears about something. Don’t use it?

        Instead of added regulation for the sake of making us “feel” safer.

  4. Rich why is it you want taxi drivers to have background checks, but not for pot club owners? If it isn’t workable for a few pot club owners, then it really isn’t workable to a few hundred uber drivers.

    I welcome your semantic arguments explaining the difference.

  5. Uber drivers in Columbus, Ohio do fingerprint for back ground check before they start to pickup customers ,.If they do it Columbus why don’t they do the same thing in the city of Sanjose

    • I am a cabdriver in Tucson Arizona and I will tell you the Uber drivers here are not fingerprinted they are not checked I have picked up several college students with complaints against Uber and lift drivers hitting on them one got out reported to an officer and they refused to take those services .

  6. Hello, Rich I agree with you, the city leaders needs to take there time to regulate for the sake of public safety. On “TNC”.
    Last time when I checked this issue the San Jose City Counsel put finger prints for every single drivers. losing there rules will be jeopardizing Public safety. Listening to the TNC companies and there lobbyist will hurt the traveling public and small local taxi companies.

    Thanks, Big k

    • Like JSL stated, “Same logic could apply tow truck drivers. How about plumbers coming to your house at night? Or movers? The list is endless. Why are drivers singled out?”

      Last time when I checked, the government cant even be trusted with taking your fingerprint. More than 21 million people were affected by the data breach, which jeopardized personal data including birthdates and Social Security numbers. About 25 percent of those victims also had their fingerprints stolen.

      I find it troubling how most people are perfectly giving away their data and biometrics.

      It’s ok everyone just reset your fingerprints.

  7. Agreed with the write regulation is vital share ride companies should play same rules as taxi cabs. Regulation will ensure public safety. We are aware horror stories about uber driver committing serious crimes.

  8. As a young woman, how all the time uses San Jose Airport, it is very important if the city officials treat public safety their number one priority. Also, they need to treat the TNC drivers with the same rules that the taxi drivers have to follow.

    • As a young man(not sure what it adds but ok), they don’t have to follow the same rules because they’re not the same thing.

      Taxis are legally able to pick up fares which hail them on the street. Uber drivers are legally prohibited from doing so.

      • The only reason my Uber is not allowed to pick up hailed fares is because you have to have a credit card because of their systems on file to pay for the fair where as taxi drivers take the risk

      • > Taxis are legally able to pick up fares which hail them on the street. Uber drivers are legally prohibited from doing so.

        Excellent point. A very important difference.

        I would say that the “regulators” have given taxis an advantage here.

        > they don’t have to follow the same rules because they’re not the same thing.

        Excellent point again. They are not the same thing because the “regulators” have declared that they are not the same thing.

        So, just figure out who the “regulators” are listening to.

  9. Recently crime happen by uber driver Rich I hope the city council & the mayor lessen to you regulate and background check the TNC compens,thank you Rich concerning the saftey of the citizen

  10. Apples and Oranges. Those who provide transportation to the public are different than those who are providing a product. As for plumbers and tow truck drivers, if something happens those businesses carry insurance or post a bond and can be sued. For those advocating for deregulation; fine. Then deregulate the entire Cab industry–it is only fair.

    • Mahalo for the reply Rich, but I still disagree. Pot needs regulation due to the propensity of abuse the system can become quagmired in. I don’t think the mafia is going to be selling apples and oranges anytime soon.

      • The FDA regulates prescription drugs, which is why there is no abuse of prescription drugs.

        • Haha, yep none, zero zip nada none and never will be either. Thank you Government for keeping us safe from prescription drug abuse. If only you had acted sooner Federal Government we might have gotten more out of Elvis and so many more.

          Now that we are safe why are so many pharmacies being broken into now? When will the federal government stepping and start regulating robbers and burglars peddling prescription meds? Rich?

    • Your whole argument is that, apples and oranges.

      Whatever the level of regulation you favor, your piece implies Uber and yellow/green cabs should be held to the same standard.

      They don’t provide the same service, so the same regulations are not applicable! No street-hail is the biggest difference. Uber already does background checks, etc., and they are very strict about banning drivers for bad behavior. Can you provide evidence that cabs are better or safer in any way vis-a-vis specific rules that they have to follow, while Uber drivers are “getting away with” skirting those rules?

      They recognized an inefficiency in the market as it relates to taxi licensing and took advantage of that by offering a similar service that avoids those issues. About that part you are totally right. And for all the years and years of people trying to “use the political process” to get those inefficient laws changed changed with no success, within just a couple of years things are closer to changing than they ever would have been otherwise.

      There is no reason why they should have to handicap themselves by following laws that don’t apply to them just because their service is SIMILAR to that of a taxi.

  11. I use taxicabs because I feel it’s safer. Anyone working with the public should have to undergo a background check. As a woman I like knowing the person giving me a ride is safe and not a criminal. Uber should have to follow the same guidelines as taxicab drivers. They are essentially doing the same thing why shouldn’t they follow the same rules?

    • They’re not doing the same thing. As a man (not sure what it adds), I don’t use cabs or uber, but I know enough to know they’re not the same thing. Again, uber and taxis aren’t the same thing.

      They’re not hailed like taxis, but instead requested. Uber drivers are prohibited from picking passengers off the street like taxis. If you felt the need to compare uber to anything, why I don’t understand, then compare it to a limousine service.

      And to be clear here, uber *is* regulated by the government.

      Though it varies a little bit state by state, they are bound by similar laws as limousine services and other “pre-arranged” shuttle services.

      • They get no fingerprinting, no backround checks, no drug tests. Yes they are requested but they are transporting the public therefore they should go through all of what I previously mentioned before being allowed to transport passengers. Also Uber’s rates are not regulated, they can charge whatever they want. Sometimes they charge triple what taxi’s charge. At least when I get inside a cab I know the person driving has gone through a complete backround check and is drug tested.

        • Your comment about drug testing suggests that drug testing is anything other than a panacea to salve the concerns of people such as yourself. And I find it incredibly naive to think that cabbies universally don’t have substance abuse issues simply because they are ‘regulated’ by various levels of government.

          Furthermore, your comments about the fares that are charged by Uber (et. al.) seem both disingenuous and pretty absurd to me also. Absurd in that it suggests that people using the service are either ignorant of how the fare structure works or that they are so stupid that they cannot learn how the structure works and therefore must be protected from predation of companies such as Uber. Disingenuous because the implication is that there is an element of randomness to the fare structure. The reality is that fare rates are fully disclosed along with the surge pricing. All of this information is available using their mobile apps.

      • Uber Fars not compared to a limousine service. And this is twice you’ve commented that you’re a man you’re not sure what that means well as a woman men have a tendency to overpower and rape women because they are stronger so your comments to me means you are a uber driver.

  12. I ride taxi cabs all the time for my night life because I know the person who providing the service is some body who has been checked his background and finger prints.so why the city of san jose not following there last council desition which was the right one, also what is wrong with uber,and lift why they refusing finger prints and background chech I do not get it what is going on,
    I hope the city leders do right thing and tell uber they are not above law and public safety is number one.

    • > I ride taxi cabs all the time for my night life because . . .

      > I hope the city leders do right thing and tell uber they are not above law and public safety is number one.

      If you like taxis, continue to ride taxis.

      The knowledge the uber exists seems to be upsetting you.

      Just imagine that uber doesn’t exist.

      Sometimes, too much knowledge is just not good for people.

  13. Uber should have to follow the same rules as cab drivers!!!because you guys have toooooooo!!!

    • I used Uber to go out with friends, to get to the location we were charged $16, Later that night we took Uber home but they charged triple the amount that it cost to get there. i was drinking so I didn’t notice the fare. The rates should be regulated so it’s always the same and no surprises. If I get into a taxi the price is always the same and the driver has a picture id posted so I know exactly who is taking me. Uber can charge whatever they want, you don’t know anything about the driver, is he a murderer rapist God knows. Uber drivers should have to display picture id, have backround checks, and should have their rates regulated.

      • That’s not how it works. Take some responsibility for yourself. You can see the price BEFORE you order an uber. There is no surprise. You not knowing is no ones fault but your own. Guessing when you say the price should always be the same, you want it the same as your first cheaper price and not always the high price? Lol

        “Is he a murderer rapist”? What a unhealthy way to go around thinking of people.

        Just to be clear here, uber *is* regulated by the government.

        Though it varies a little bit state by state, they are bound by similar laws as limousine services and other “pre-arranged” shuttle services.

        They’re not hailed, but instead requested (even if ad-hoc). The taxi drivers complain they circumvent the medallion system.

        • I read on your article uber is regulated by government but you haven’t given us examples also you we’re trying to differ uber and taxi industry ,the end of the day both industry whether you flaged a cab or order uber on app you transport a person that is where public safety and fingerprint back ground check comes .

        • I take responsibility for not checking the price yes, but the price should be consistent. In regards to wondering if the driver is a murderer or a rapist, that is not an unhealthy way to think since Uber drivers have been found to have convictions for rape and murder and have also committed crimes. It’s a reality that they allow anyone to become a driver. I don’t know what the problem is for Uber to do backround checks and drug testing. If they are confident that they have good drivers then why are they so against doing it?

      • More likely the price is based on simple supply and demand economics…. the price increased at closing time when many other consumers were demanding and uber. Sure you can dial 7 seven times and pay a regulated rate but you opted for the uber “right now” verses a cab getting ther when it can get there.

        What stops a cabbie from transporting a fare for a negotiated rate with the meter off? Nothing more than the cabbie wanting.to follow the law…but I use cabs an 100% of the time I will throw out a “”number” and pay it upfront. ..saving significantly on the meter fare. CASH IS KING.

        Why do I do this? I’ve gone the meter route and been (1) take on the scenic route and gouged by the driver and (2) sat at a dead stop in traffic and watched the meter add $$$ … because you not only pay a fee plus milage but with a taxi you also pay for time and we all know time is money….

        With uber you either like the price the app says and order a ride or you don’t and call a cab, walk or take public transit.

        And yes folks it’s a mean cruel world and there are bad people out there willing to do bad things to innocent humans and worse things to folks who like to impair themselves with drink and drugs.

        Why is it we want to completely ignore the fact that many among us come from cultures and backgrounds that are at serious odds with the traditional notion of “American’ life and culture as we knew it.

        This is an adult topic so anyone who wants to cry racism and xenophobia on my part can excuse themselves now and continue blindly navigating through life.

        …I wonder about the Uber who ran over the 6 year old. Where was he from? Did he grow up or learn to drive in a country where drivers typically obey the rules of the road as Americans understand them? Or get from point a to point b as fast as possible?

        I don’t know if that uber driver fled the scene of the accident involving the 6 year old but if he di, did he grow up in a country where when an accident happens a crowd gathers and determines through emotion rather than fact who is at fault and then proceeds to drag the perceived offender out of his car and beat him to death? You might think “running’ is a better option than death… people revert to what they “know” under stress.

        These are just a few things to ponder before blindly accepting Rich’s big Govt proposition. “We” didn’t just get here by accident.

  14. I used Uber to go out with friends, to get to the location we were charged $16, Later that night we took Uber home but they charged triple the amount that it cost to get there. i was drinking so I didn’t notice the fare. The rates should be regulated so it’s always the same and no surprises. If I get into a taxi the price is always the same and the driver has a picture id posted so I know exactly who is taking me. Uber can charge whatever they want, you don’t know anything about the driver, is he a murderer rapist God knows. Uber drivers should have to display picture id, have backround checks, and should have their rates regulated.

  15. In New York City uber drivers need a TLC license ,upgrade dmv license to class A, submit an online TLC application,take a defensive driving , get doctors exam and fingerprint back ground check. UBER have 25000 drivers in New York city . The city of Sanjose requested uber the simplest thing finger print back ground check to the concern of public safety ,why don’t they doit ?

  16. The city of San Jose would save millions of dollars if our council members would just resign and let the Mayor appoint his business partners to run the city. Our city is a mess and once the taxi cabs are gone so will any regulations established to protect the public. I live in District 3 and voted for Raul Peralez. I voted for him but will not be supporting him ever again. He is not an independent thinker and only protects the interest of the police and like the rest of the council bows to the Mayor on practically every issue. Our city services have gotten worse the last 10 years and the only thing this Council has pushed are charter schools, more housing without the needed services and of course Downtown Streets Team. Businesses push deregulation and low pay and the Mayor and Council do the same. I will be voting no on any new taxes and I urge everyone to do the same.

    • Having read your comment, I feel like I just took a ride on the hyperbole express. Firstly, where in any of this discussion is there any indication that taxi services will be driven out of San Jose? And exactly what ‘regulations established to protect the public’ do you see falling victim to said exodus of taxi services? As others have pointed out, the Taxi vs. Uber/Lyft/et. al. comparison is one of apples to oranges. Just as apples and oranges feed you, but the method of delivery is quite different (as is the experience), so do these various services move people from one point to another but, again, the method of delivery is quite different. And, if the methods of delivery are different, why should the regulations be the same?

      Furthermore, in what ways does Mr. Peralez ‘bow to the Mayor’ or ‘only protect the interest of the police’? I think that enormous numbers of San Jose’s citizens would say that the lack of ability on the part of the City to deliver essential services – public safety chief among them – is the defining contemporary issue facing citizens and leadership. And, since past – and, yes – present, leadership created the crisis in public safety (especially police) staffing, current leadership has finally acknowledged (whether implicitly or explicitly) that Measure be was not simply a failure in achieving its stated goals. Rather it has been a catastrophe which has achieved exactly the opposite of its stated goals. Right now, because of Measure B, because of incumbent leadership, and because of the adversarial nature of the relationship that is now extant between the police force and city leadership and, to a degree, San Jose’s citizens, San Jose faces a staffing crisis in public safety – and again, especially – in the police department which is unprecedented.

      A significant element of Mr. Peralez’s campaign was founded on a resolve to try to fix the staffing issues the PD faces. These staffing issues were predicted by the SJPOA in the months leading up to the election which saw Measure B on the ballot and, with that in mind, perhaps the POA should be heeded as leadership on all sides tries to resolve this crisis.

      • Officer Anonymous: contrary to your assertion, the “method of delivery” is exactly the same for taxis, Uber and Lyft—you get into a car driven by a total stranger expecting to be delivered safely to your destination. Public safety demands that there be some assurance that the total stranger driving you to your destination is not a rapist or a robber or a killer, or even simply an incompetent driver or one subject to fits of road rage. Only the METHOD OF HAILING that delivery is different as between a cab and the Uber/Lyft people. Instead of protecting Uber/Lyft passengers from bad guys, the Mayor and Council have dumbed down the regulations for taxis. Of course, no set of rules will provide 100% protection, but the weakened rules for all drivers of these public conveyances definitely decreases public safety.

  17. Let’s face it. The writer is correct. Uber is a taxi company, one with a new business model. Uber’s basic argument (and Silicon Valley’s) is that the people (i.e., the government) have no right to limit or oversee these new business models. Bollocks. Any network that becomes broadly used and becomes vital to the public deserves public scrutiny and oversight: roads, banks, water, electricity, trucks, trains, and yes, taxicabs.

    There are two issues at work here: First, we’re overregulated. Taxi companies are political powerhouses in every big city. Like all licensed businesses there is some effect of limiting quantity in order to keep prices stable (or high) and keep the service safe. This doesn’t always work out as anyone knows who has been in a filthy cab in New York, driven by someone who has no real idea where they are going. Second: we have to allow and encourage this kind of innovation, not throttle it at birth. We need to find a new synthesis of the values of Uber and the values cabs: Uber’s convenience and efficiency and taxi’s traditional reliability, scheduling, and clear line of responsibility for driver standards and passenger safety.