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Why Uber And Lyft May Be Bad For The Poor (And The Earth)

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

A 15-minute Uber ride or a 30-minute transit ride? For affluent city dwellers who increasingly prefer comfort and convenience, this choice is a no-brainer. However, this choice is a privilege that remains out of reach for those who live in transit-dependent low-income communities, who face many barriers to accessing ride-hailing services.

Uber competing with taxis is old news, but many now worry that ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft compete with public transit for riders. Not only can ride-hailing service be incredibly convenient, nowadays it can be dirt cheap, increasing the appeal of simply opening the mobile app. This trend may come as no surprise to cities with limited and inefficient transit that are losing their poor, transit-dependent riders in droves to gentrification.

However, a 2017 study shows that even in New York City, Lyft and Uber ridership is increasing, as subway and bus ridership declines. When ride-hailing services threaten even the best public transit network in the country, you know we have a major problem. The graphs below show the changes in ridership by mode from the baseline of the previous year.

This drop in ridership and revenue indicates has made it harder for some cities to invest in public transit. Given this reality, cities may rely more heavily on shared mobility services such as bikesharing, carsharing, luxury commuter shuttles and ride-hailing services to replace public transit trips. Some public transit agencies are already testing this idea, and are providing subsidies to ride-hailing companies as a substitute to transit.

So who will be most harmed by less public transit service? Well, everyone who breathes dirtier air or sits in clogged traffic as transit use declines will be hurt, but transit-dependent low-income communities of color will suffer most. And city leaders can’t just ask these riders to replace their usual bus routes by downloading a ride-hailing app. Lyft and Uber don’t work for all demographics, especially those in rural areas, and those without access to banks or smartphones.

And while ridesharing fares have become cheaper over time, generally they are still much more expensive than public transit. While Lyft and Uber have vague “anti-discrimination” policies on their websites, there are no specific procedures to prevent discriminatory practices such as drivers going offline to avoid requests in lower-income areas.

A study showed that African-Americans faced 30 percent longer wait times and were twice as likely to have their ride cancelled as their white counterparts. Before cities open the floodgates to shared mobility services—Uber and Lyft in particular–they must take smart steps to reduce the harm to transit-dependent communities of color.

San Francisco recently began taking proactive steps to address potential harms of shared mobility services by approving a set of Guiding Principles for Management of Emergence Transportation Services to be used in all decisions and policies relating to these shared mobility options, including ride-hailing, microtransit, bike and carsharing, etc. The principles cover ten categories, including equitable access, sustainability, congestion, fair labor practices, and the need to complement as opposed to competing with transit. This marks a step in the right direction in reigning in the shared mobility industry and ensuring equity and sustainability are meaningful parts of their business models.

While the shared mobility industry can play an important role in our transportation system, it must not be allowed to completely replace biking, walking, and clean public transit. Lyfts and Ubers contribute to congestion and pollution, and failure to regulate them enables the automobile addiction of cities worldwide. A report from New York City shows ridesharing companies have caused a net increase of 600 million vehicle miles traveled, resulting in a 3 to 4 percent upsurge in traffic. Duke University released a report concluding that a single-occupancy vehicle emits 89 pounds of CO2 per 100 passenger miles, while a full bus emits only 14 pounds.

Meanwhile, the rapid growth of electric buses and other clean technologies will only further increase the efficiency of public transit—strengthening the argument that public transit is cleaner and more efficient than Lyfts and Ubers, and therefore should be a top priority in transportation planning. That’s one of the reasons the No Uber Oakland campaign has made working with—and not undermining—public transit one of its demands of the ride-hailing giant.

Greenlining’s Mobility Equity Framework seeks to ensure that the business objectives of shared mobility companies do not eclipse investments in clean forms of transportation such as walking, biking, and public transit. Low-income communities of color need greater access to clean, affordable transportation options that serve as connectors to economic opportunity. This framework will prioritize clean transportation options that align with equity and sustainability goals, before hastily rolling out the red carpet for the shared mobility industry.

Uber CEO Quits Trump’s Business Advisory Group After Backlash

SAN FRANCISCO/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Uber Technologies Inc Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick quit President Donald Trump’s business advisory group on Thursday amid mounting pressure from activists and employees who oppose the administration’s immigration policies.

Critics included Uber drivers, many of whom are immigrants themselves.

“Joining the group was not meant to be an endorsement of the president or his agenda but unfortunately it has been misinterpreted to be exactly that,” Kalanick, who had planned to attend a meeting of the group on Friday, said in an email to staff that was seen by Reuters.

Uber spokeswoman Chelsea Kohler later confirmed that he had left the group.

Social media campaigns had targeted Uber, urging users to delete accounts and opt for rival Lyft Inc. Uber has been emailing users who deleted their accounts to say it shares their concerns and will compensate drivers affected by the ban.

Kalanick said he spoke briefly to Trump about the immigration order “and its issues for our community” and told the president he would not join the economic council.

The CEO came under increasing pressure to leave the council after Trump issued an executive order temporarily barring people from seven majority-Muslim nations from entering the United States.

“There are many ways we will continue to advocate for just change on immigration but staying on the council was going to get in the way of that. The executive order is hurting many people in communities all across America,” he wrote in a note to employees. “Families are being separated, people are stranded overseas and there’s a growing fear the U.S. is no longer a place that welcomes immigrants.”

The White House said in a statement Thursday evening that did not mention Uber that Trump “understands the importance of an open dialogue with fellow business leaders to discuss how to best make our nation’s economy stronger.”

The move could put pressure on other CEOs expected to attend a meeting with Trump on Friday. General Motors Co said its chief executive would attend, while Walt Disney Co said earlier Thursday its chief executive would not attend because of a long-planned board meeting.

Others expected to take part include the CEOs of JPMorgan Chase & Co, Blackstone Group LP, IBM Corp, and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Others that are part of the council include Tesla Inc CEO Elon Musk, PepsiCo Inc CEO Indra Nooyi, and Boston Consulting Group CEO Rich Lesser.

Musk said he would attend the meeting. “In tomorrow’s meeting, I and others will express our objections to the recent executive order on immigration and offer suggestions for changes to the policy,” he said in a tweet on Thursday.

Kalanick’s departure could signal a growing rift between technology companies and Washington.

“There is a battle brewing between Trump and Silicon Valley,” said Neeraj Agrawal, general partner at Battery Ventures. “They (the Trump administration) clearly don’t value the economic activity generated by tech.”

Microsoft Corp on Thursday said it proposed a modification of Trump’s travel limits.

Technology companies including Microsoft, Google owner Alphabet Inc, Apple Inc, and Amazon.com Inc have opposed Trump’s order, arguing that they rely on workers from around the world.

Amazon and Expedia Inc have filed court documents supporting a legal challenge to the order by the Washington state attorney general.

(Reporting by Heather Somerville in San Francisco, David Shepardson and Emily Stephenson in Washington, Joe White in Detroit; Writing by Peter Henderson; Editing by Diane Craft and Lisa Shumaker)

Uber Drivers In U.S. Cities To Join Planned Worker Protests

By Lisa Baertlein

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Drivers for ride service company Uber will join planned nationwide protests on Tuesday, when activists and low-wage workers renew their call for better pay and the right to join a union in the wake of Donald Trump’s U.S. presidential election win, organizers said.

Hundreds of Uber drivers in two dozen cities, including San Francisco, Miami and Boston, for the first time will add their voices to the union-backed “Fight for $15” campaign that has helped convince several cities and states to raise starting pay significantly above the U.S. minimum wage of $7.25.

Justin Berisie, 34, drives for Uber in Denver and is joining Tuesday’s protests.

“Someone who lives in America and goes to work every day, that person deserves a decent living,” said Berisie, who has a 5-year-old daughter and is struggling to make ends meet. He said he earns $500 or less, before expenses such as gasoline, during an average week where he is on duty for 50 to 60 hours.

The four-year-old “Fight for $15” movement includes fast-food workers, home care aides, airport baggage handlers and other low-wage employees. Organizers from “Fight for $15,” which is backed by the Service Employees International Union, say the campaign’s Nov. 29 demonstrations will take place in 340 cities and nearly 20 of the nation’s busiest airports.

U.S. policy is expected to become less worker friendly following the election of Trump, a international businessman who will be president as fellow Republicans control both chambers of Congress as well as federal agencies that govern the formation of unions, overtime rules and more.

Uber drivers have sued the company in several states, accusing it of depriving drivers of various employment protections by misclassifying them as independent contractors.

The lawsuits are a test for companies such as Uber Technologies Inc [UBER.UL], a high-profile player in the so-called “sharing economy,” which say that their contractor model allows for flexibility that many see as important to their success. A legal finding that drivers are employees could raise Uber’s costs and force it to pay Social Security, workers’ compensation, and unemployment insurance.

(Reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

IMAGE: An Uber car is seen parked with the driver’s lunch left on the dashboard in Venice, Los Angeles, California, United States July 15, 2015. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Uber And Deregulated Hypercapitalism Increasingly Leave Americans Unprotected

Published with permission from Alternet.

Last week in San Diego, Calif., an Uber driver was charged with 20 counts of sexual assault-related charges stretching back several years, only months after he allegedly raped an intoxicated young woman who sought a ride home. (Uber immediately fired the driver after that incident last winter.) The attack, which was rare but not unprecedented, prompted Uber’s competition, the traditional taxi industry, to demand the Golden State require ride-share drivers undergo police-conducted fingerprinting and criminal background checks—which Uber has fervently opposed.

“Driving for Uber provides sexual predators with a paid opportunity to locate and transport intoxicated victims,” said Dave Sutton, a spokesman for Who’s Driving You? a taxi industry group that has complained ride-share drivers don’t operate under the same government-administered accountability rules as they do. “Police-conducted fingerprint background checks could deter such predators. The CPUC (California Public Utility Commission) should urgently take up fingerprinting Uber and Lyft drivers to protect Californians,” Sutton said.

While the CPUC said it will look at that in June, there is more to this sordid news and ongoing political fight than meets the eye. The odds are not just long that state regulators will interfere with a high-tech company that says it’s already self-policing its drivers, and paints itself to lawmakers as a vanguard of the future. The embrace of rapidly growing companies like Uber is the harbinger of a deeper and more disturbing trend—the reality that Americans are increasingly unprotected as individuals against the growing power of corporate giants.

State government, even in states like California where Democrats are in the majority, are not insisting that seemingly new industries—such as the ride-share industry—follow consumer protections that have existed for decades. There is a reason for this. In 2015 in California, Uber spent more money lobbying lawmakers to avoid state regulation than tech giants Apple and Facebook, according to Governing, a magazine for policymakers.

Uber’s lobbyists, led by President Obama’s 2008 campaign manager, David Plouffe, opposed legislation that would mandate drivers get special licenses, are treated as employees and not contractors, have more insurance, and undergo drug testing and background checks. Many in the Democrat-run statehouse consider Plouffe a celebrity, posed for selfies with him, and defeated many of the public safety hoops that long ago were required of traditional taxis, Governingreported.

When it came to screening drivers, Uber said it would use a private firm, not police and criminal record databases, as it explained on its website, because government databases are often incomplete and there’s been too much racial profiling and race-based convictions in the criminal justice system.

“In particular, communities of color are disproportionately impacted because they are arrested at a higher rate,” Uber explained, as it defended its use of private screening firms and rejected use of police records. “Across the U.S., at least 70 police departments arrest African Americans at ten times the rate of Caucasians.”

All of what Uber cites is true, but it’s not the whole picture. And Uber’s touted precautions have not prevented some predatory drivers from scouting for targets and assaulting women. That’s what happened in Cincinnati, Ohio, this past January, where it was covered in the nightly news.

Needless to say, Sutton’s group wants to level the playing field with competitors like Uber and has compiled and cataloged dozens of incidents involving ride-share drivers where people have been killed, robbed, assaulted, kidnapped or raped. Uber, in response, defends its policies and has a record of firing drivers once an alleged infraction is reported.

“Accidents and incidents will always happen. And when it comes to screening, every system has its flaws,” Uber’s safety webpage said. “That’s why we continue to invest in new technologies that help keep riders and drivers safe before, during, and after every ride.”

The bottom line is corporations like Uber, that wrap themselves in the flag of tech innovation, are eroding the public’s ability to protect itself. That’s anything but a new approach; it is rolling back the clock to a more exploitive economic era that took decades of political action to reel in.

Uber is just one example. But as last week’s arrest and charging of a former driver with a litany of sex-related crimes shows, companies that are presenting themselves as being in the vanguard of a new economy are leaving Americans unprotected from their hypercapitalism. The political system keeps tilting the balance toward corporate prerogatives and away from individuals. Is it any wonder that 2016’s electorate is angry, volatile and feeling victimized?

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s retirement crisis, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of “Count My Vote: A Citizen’s Guide to Voting” (AlterNet Books, 2008).

Photo: Josh Mohrer, Uber’s general manager for New York, speaks to the media while Uber riders and driver-partners take part in a rally on steps of the New York City Hall in New York June 30, 2015. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz/File Photo