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Taxi Times International - March 2015 - English

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CHANGING TAXI TRADE

CHANGING TAXI TRADE CHANGING TAXI TRADE TLPA-CEO, ALFRED LAGASSE “IT TOOK THE INDUSTRY A LONG TIME TO RECOGNISE THE INTER NATIONAL THREAT OF TNC’S” Envious of foreign legal system decisiveness in taking strong action against illegal TNC’s, Al LaGasse (CEO TLPA), wishes his own court system would show more strength in following this foreign lead. Not a day passes where at least one of the apps, Transportation Network Companies (TNC’s) is the term used in the USA, makes the headlines. For the past three years, LaGasse’s long working days have been filled with the same fare, assisting members across the country in their stand against often illegal apps. TAXI TIMES: It all started in San Francisco … AL LAGASSE: “Although Uber started five years ago in San Francisco, it stayed under the radar for quite a while. It’s interesting to note that one app – TaxiMagic, now Curb – was earlier on the market than Uber, but this app connects taxi-users with licensed taxi companies.” What were the major changes in these three years? “Recently, Uber, Lyft and Sidecar have grown into significant national players. Before that they were only active in a few markets like San Francisco and Seattle. In mid-2013 Uber started branching out to »Uber is an extremely aggressive firm that will not accept statements of opposition of anyone except courts.« Washington DC, Boston and Chicago with their UberBlack service at first. Soon thereafter, they introduced UberX (UberPop) and then quickly grew from there. We sounded the alarm nationally and internationally, but many members, especially those in smaller jurisdictions, thought TNC’s would be limited to the largest cities and would never affect them. Now even relatively small cities are affected. Do you know Portsmouth, New Hampshire? No? There’s a TNC there. It has only 22.000 inhabitants.” “It took the industry a long time to see the national and international development. Our first job was to get recognition for the fact that this is a true industrywide problem. We hadn’t really achieved that before April 2014, when Lyft suddenly opened in 24 US cities in one week and UberX followed suit. The race for TNC market dominance and the driver labour force was on.” INSURANCE PHOTO: Wim Faber The taxi sector was the first to feel the effects. In many areas where TNC’s have been active for over a year, the taxi industry has felt a drop in income of approximately 40%. Of the widely quoted figure of a 65% drop in San Francisco, LaGasse says this is “blown out of all proportions” and “based on a limited sample.” Yet in the taxi to the TLPA my driver told me half the 500+ taxi fleet at his company was parked and not used. “The taxi companies were the first to respond”, says LaGasse. “The limousine industry is just now responding. At the time paratransit operators were dealing with other problems: aggregators (brokers) who entered their business as middle men between government and service providers. They are the least affected by the TNC’s thus far, although Uber said it would provide a wheelchair-accessible service in San Francisco. A pure PR-move, if you ask me. So far they have done a mis- era- ble job of servicing people with mobility handicaps. But time will tell.” “Yes, TNC’s have made significant inroads in the taxi business. Generally their prices are 20–40 per cent lower. Except when they are surge pricing, and that happens far more often than you think. Because of weather, blocked roads, high demand, whatever. There’s always a reason. Several times a day TNC’s will be much more expensive than taxis. Uber provides a taxi service, but doesn’t call it a taxi service, thinks it doesn’t have to follow the rules required for taxis, benefits from doing that and doesn’t incur the costs licensed taxi companies are compelled to meet.” ‘The more consensus you build within the industry, the better.’ One of the main ‘savings’ is insurance. Most TNC’s claim to have proper insurance. A claim hotly disputed by the taxi industry. “It’s insurance with major gaps. So many gaps that 28 states have already issued warnings for TNC-insurance. It’s not ‘first dollar’ insurance and it means you have to go through the driver’s insurance first. When that is denied, you can seek coverage from Uber. That has evolved into better insurance since they started, mainly under pressure from the public sector. We had a professional expert go through all 166 pages of Uber’s policy and addendums. There are gaps there. But keep in mind that when a customer signs up with Uber’s terms and conditions for instance, he waives the right to sue Uber. The same goes for the drivers: they also waive their rights.” But TNC’s happily claim they are covered to the tune of a million dollars. “That’s what Uber says. How real is that sum? They string each lawsuit out to make sure payments don’t have to be made. That helps keep their cash flow healthy. In the early days money was tight. There was no money to pay insurance. Now they would 10 TAXI MARCH / 2015 11

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