Uber Pleads to Meet With London Regulators After License Revoked

Uber is preparing an effort to reverse London regulators’ decision to take away its operating license. While some of its tactics will sound familiar, the company, now under pressure, is also showing its softer side.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Uber is hoping to arrange a meeting as early as Monday with Transport for London, the body overseeing the city’s public transit and taxis. It seems Uber hasn’t had much luck getting meetings with London leaders recently.

“We’d like to know what we can do,” said Uber’s London general manager, Tom Elvidge, in an email to the Journal. “But that requires a dialogue we sadly haven’t been able to have recently.” Uber, according to the Journal, doesn’t even know why its license was revoked, or what it can do to earn it back.

Even new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has taken to Twitter to beg for a dialogue with city leaders.

To Uber’s many critics, that likely has a delicious ring of schadenfreude. Under CEO and founder Travis Kalanick, Uber was notorious for ignoring or working to circumvent regulators at every level.

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But Khosrowshahi got the CEO nod in part because he isn’t Kalanick, and repairing the company’s reputation is his broadest mandate. Now his softer approach will be put to the test – though the company is also diving back into the Kalanick-era playbook, including by marshalling public pressure on regulators.

That approach, though, has already failed spectacularly once, when residents of Austin, Texas rejected a proposition to reverse regulations the company found onerous. Uber left the city, and returned to Austin after more than a year only because state legislators overturned Austin’s rules.

The stakes for Uber in London are immense. According to the Journal, London amounts for about 5% of Uber’s userbase. That’s worth holding on to – but concessions that increase Uber’s costs could also trigger similar demands from other locales. That could threaten the company’s chances of at least getting closer to profitability, as it targets an IPO within 18 to 36 months.

One Surprise Standout for Uber: Food Delivery

There is also the threat of Amazon, which has tried food delivery in a few markets. The Seattle retail giant’s recent acquisition of Whole Foods provides hundreds of potential bases for drivers to pick up prepared food for delivery in major urban areas, where takeout orders are popular.

“The number-one concern for all of these delivery companies is Amazon,” said James Cakmak, an analyst at the equity research firm Monness, Crespi, Hardt & Company who follows the food delivery space. “How could Amazon use its network to crush our business? They have the logistical network and the balance sheet to be able to compete on the price side with all of these players.”

Matt Maloney, the founder and chief executive of Grubhub, said his company’s focus on food orders set it apart.

“Uber has built a great company focused on black car service and human transportation, but succeeding in food delivery is a different game,” Mr. Maloney said in a statement. “We are known for one thing only — takeout ordering — and we have engineered our entire product around this purpose.”

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“There’s a global trend towards delivery,” said Jason Droege, vice president of UberEverything, the division that introduced UberEats in 2015.

Credit
Christie Hemm Klok for The New York Times

Both Amazon and Postmates declined to comment on UberEats.

Uber first dabbled in food delivery in Los Angeles in 2014 under the name UberFresh, offering prepackaged lunches and dinners from restaurants. Uber also tried other experiments, like UberEssentials, a way to deliver pantry and drugstore items quickly.

“If you can hit a button and get a car in a few minutes, what else can you get in a few minutes?” Mr. Droege said.

But the situation wasn’t ideal, with drivers usually carting food around in a safe storage container in their car trunks. That led to issues with food quality, and customers were unhappy when their food arrived cold. People also wanted a greater selection of restaurants, something that competitors like Postmates provided.

In December 2015, Mr. Droege’s division introduced a separate app, UberEats, in Toronto, working with restaurants to provide freshly cooked meals that could be ordered with a few touches of a smartphone button. The service took off, and over the next 18 months UberEats expanded its sales force to bring more restaurants on board and to open in new cities.

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Flags from around the world decorate the UberEats headquarters. The service is now in more than 120 cities.

Credit
Christie Hemm Klok for The New York Times

Uber executives said UberEats, which is now in more than 120 cities, had several advantages over rivals. For one, Uber has a network of more than two million drivers who can also deliver food. Cars used for UberEats also do not need to pass all of the inspection standards required to carry passengers, widening the potential delivery labor pool. (Drivers need not own a car at all; UberBike is a popular delivery method for food orders.)

Uber has also spent the better part of a decade mapping cities and finding the most efficient routes, which the company said may help improve delivery times. And since the problems with UberFresh, it has invested in better technology and added more drivers in participating cities. The ideal UberEats delivery has the driver arrive at the restaurant just as the food has finished cooking, and has it delivered to the customer while still warm.

“What Uber has are the last-mile logistics, and that’s crucial,” Mr. Cakmak said.

Uber has taken the partnership approach to speed up the growth of UberEats, echoing a strategy of companies like Postmates. Uber struck a deal with McDonald’s this year to offer delivery from thousands of its restaurants. Lucy Brady, a McDonald’s executive, said on an investor call in July that the initial results of the partnership were positive.

The service has stumbled at times, including this month when it faced complaints that an ad in India — telling husbands to use UberEats so their wives could take a day off from cooking — was sexist. The company apologized for the ad.

Uber said it had invested in increasing its UberEats sales force, as well as hiring data scientists to analyze daily information on customer orders and preferences to help restaurants improve their service or promote their more popular menu items.

For Mr. Gordon, the owner of Footprints Cafe, Uber’s investments have been a boon for business. He said the delivery service had helped his restaurant reach new customers outside its loyal Caribbean community, without spending on advertising or promotion on Facebook or Groupon, as he did in the past.

“We’ve employed people who just work on Uber deliveries, and have a counter just for Uber driver pickup,” Mr. Gordon said. “It has definitely been worth it.”

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Uber Loses License to Operate in London

A ban on operating in one of its largest markets would certainly hit Uber’s bottom line. The company said it had 40,000 drivers and 3.5 million customers in London who used its app at least once every three months.

Mr. Khosrowshahi, in a Twitter post on Friday afternoon, acknowledged that Uber was “far from perfect” and urged city regulators to work out a solution with the company.

Less than a year ago, a British tribunal ruled that Uber could no longer treat its drivers as self-employed contractors and would have to meet tougher labor standards, including offering holiday pay and pensions.

“Fit and proper” is a benchmark that Britain applies across different industries and its charitable organizations to ensure that people or organizations meet the requirements of their industry or specialty.

“Uber’s approach and conduct demonstrate a lack of corporate responsibility in relation to a number of issues which have potential public safety and security implications,” Transport for London said in a statement.

Tests typically assess factors like an individual or company’s honesty, transparency and competence, though there is no formal exam. In Uber’s case, Transport for London said it had examined issues of how the company dealt with serious criminal offenses, how it conducted background checks on drivers and its justification for a software program called Greyball, which “could be used to block regulatory bodies from gaining full access to the app.”

In May, Transport for London extended Uber’s license by four months as it considered whether the company met that threshold.

“Providing an innovative service is not an excuse for it being unsafe,” London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, wrote in The Guardian soon after the ruling was announced. “The regulatory environment is critical in protecting Londoners’ safety, maintaining workplace standards for drivers and sustaining a vibrant taxi and private hire market with space for a range of providers to flourish.”

Uber’s London license will now expire on Sept. 30. But it can continue to operate in the city during the appeal process in Britain’s courts.

Tom Elvidge, Uber’s general manager in London, said the agency and Mr. Khan had “caved in to a small number of people who want to restrict consumer choice.”

Do You Live in London? Share Your Views on Uber

What would London without Uber look like? We want to hear from those in London about their experience, including those who work, or have worked, for Uber.


Uber conducted background checks using the methods used for black-cab drivers, he said.

“Our pioneering technology has gone further to enhance safety with every trip tracked and recorded by GPS,” Mr. Elvidge said, adding that the company had “a dedicated team who work closely with the Metropolitan Police.”

He also said Greyball had not been used to block scrutiny by regulators or the police in London.

The move by regulators in London “picks up the political mood of the times,” said Tony Travers, a professor at the London School of Economics. “London, like New York and Paris, is full of urban progressives who, even if they use Uber, feel guilty when they read things about it that they don’t like.”

On Thursday, a Dutch appeals court upheld a ban of an Uber service in the Netherlands, saying the company’s low-cost UberPop ride-hailing offering had been operated illegally. The French authorities took a similar case to the Court of Justice of the European Union, and last year Uber and two executives were convicted and fined the equivalent of nearly $500,000 in France in relation to UberPop.

In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio has criticized Uber’s rapid expansion for making congestion worse on city streets. But in 2015, his administration backed down from a fight with Uber by abruptly dropping a plan for a cap on the number of Uber vehicles operating within the city.

Until now, London had been one of Uber’s most notable success stories outside the United States. It debuted in the city in 2012, just before the Summer Olympics, initially with a luxury service. It added UberX, which competes more directly with the city’s storied black taxis, a year later. The company now operates in more than 40 cities and towns across Britain.

Its arrival here, however, created a clash almost immediately with the black cabs, which trace their roots to 1634.

Black-cab drivers, who earn licenses by memorizing some 25,000 streets and 100,000 landmarks for an exacting test known as The Knowledge, complain that Uber drivers are under-regulated. Many fear that the rivalry will put them out of business: Uber fares are about 30 percent lower than those of black cabs.

The conflict also involves tensions over ethnicity and class. Most black-cab drivers are white native-born Britons, while many Uber drivers are immigrants.

Uber has said it receives hundreds of complaints a month from its drivers about remarks from black-cab drivers. Among the insults hurled are “Uber slave!” and “Go back to your country!”

Many black-cab drivers have now signed up with competing apps like Gett and MyTaxi, which like Uber allow passengers to hail rides via their smartphones. Londoners can also choose from a wide variety of private-hire services, known as minicabs.

Black-cab drivers, and the unions representing them, cheered Friday’s ruling. Jeffrey Marcus, who has been driving a London taxi for 42 years, described it as “long overdue.”

“We’ve got a brilliant taxi service here,” Mr. Marcus, 67, said. “You pay a little more for a licensed taxi, but you get the service.”

The reaction online to the Transport for London ruling, however, was generally negative. Hours after the decision was announced, a Change.org petition that was started and heavily promoted by Uber within its app and via emails to customers had over 200,000 signatures.

Ahmad Shoaib, an Uber driver, said the service was being unfairly targeted.

“I know there have been some problems with drivers, but most of us are good and reliable and play by the rules,” he said. “It is not fair to punish everyone because of the mistakes of one or two people.”

Mr. Shoaib switched to Uber from a minicab company in Croydon, in South London, after he saw how much work friends were getting from the ride-hailing service.

“London needs Uber,” he said, “it’s cheap and easy.”

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Recode Daily: Facebook pledges to fix its Russia problem and Uber may be banned in London

Facebook will hand over information on Russia-linked ads to Congress, and pledged to make it harder to manipulate future elections. Mark Zuckerberg took to Facebook yesterday to share his plans — a shift from his stance last November, when he dismissed the notion that Facebook influenced the outcome of the U.S. election as a “pretty crazy idea.” But Zuckerberg also reaffirmed that Facebook won’t censor users or advertisers in advance of the things they post — an idea that’s core to Facebook’s success. Zuckerberg still says he isn’t running for president; read his full speech here.[Recode]

The congressional investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential election is already expanding beyond early scrutiny of Facebook. Sen. Mark Warner thinks Russian agents may have used bots to amplify their message on sites like Twitter, Google and Reddit, and intends to have a hearing in October. [Tony Romm / Recode]

London regulators say they will strip Uber of its license to operate at the end of the month, citing “potential public safety and security implications.” [Johana Bhuiyan / Recode]

Uber has a lot of reasons to settle the lawsuit with Alphabet before its October hearing. Especially after it was revealed that Alphabet is seeking $2.6 billion in damages for a single self-driving trade secret it claims was stolen. By settling, Uber would avoid a potentially messy public trial, avoid new evidence, alleviate legal costs and return its self-driving arm to business as usual. On Uber’s other lawsuit front, its earliest and biggest investor, Benchmark, said it doesn’t intend to sell any shares to the Japanese SoftBank consortium, which would complicate SoftBank’s proposed $10 billion investment in Uber. [Johana Bhuiyan / Recode]

Here’s why Google is spending $1.1 billion to “acqhire” 2,000 engineers from Taiwanese company HTC’s smartphone operations. For starters, hardware is still important to Google, and it can be a great business. And while phones are today’s focus, what’s next — augmented reality? implanted devices? — matters more. Also, HTC needs it. [Dan Frommer and Rani Molla]

Snap is shuffling some top executives inside its secret hardware division. Former Googler Mark Randall is now running the team behind Snap’s video-recording sunglasses, called Spectacles. After the internal restructuring, the company also fired about a dozen employees. [Kurt Wagner]

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Uber really doesn’t want its drivers to be considered employees

SAN FRANCISCO—A three-judge panel at the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals appeared to lean in favor of Uber in a case that could have a profound impact on the future of employment and gig economy startups.

On Wednesday, the court heard a consolidated appeal of 11 pending cases that essentially boil down to the same issue: should drivers be considered employees? If so, can they sue as part of a class-action lawsuit? If Uber prevails, drivers will be considered contractors—and they won’t, as is currently the case, receive numerous benefits.

When prospective drivers sign up with Uber, they agree to waive their right to sue in favor of arbitration, a private, quasi-legal process that generally favors corporations over individuals.

More than a year ago, in a related case, the same panel of judges ruled in favor of Uber. In that case, Mohamed v. Uber, the 9th Circuit concluded that because the labor agreement pushing workers toward arbitration included an opt-out provision, the deal was OK.

Shannon Liss-Riordan, a Boston-based attorney who has brought several similar cases against Uber and other startups over this key labor question, argued Wednesday that the provision that the drivers signed forcing them into arbitration is unenforceable. Most of the members of the class in the class-action suit signed such provisions. Uber, on the other hand, argued that arbitration is the proper vehicle to settle disputes, that the plaintiffs shouldn’t be considered a “class,” and that its drivers aren’t employees.

“What we have is thousands [in a] wildly disparate group of people,” Theodore Boutrous, the attorney representing Uber, said during the Wednesday hearing.

He urged the 9th Circuit to decertify the 240,000 member class of drivers in O’Connor v. Uber, the lead case among this grouping of 11 related cases. O’Connor, which was almost settled in 2016, has been underway since 2013. If the 9th Circuit rules in Uber’s favor, it would significantly hinder the efforts of drivers suing the company, as they would lack the heft that a class-action brings.

Liss-Riordan and Boutrous are also facing off in Lawson v. Grubhub, a separate civil trial underway in San Francisco that deals with similar employment issues. That single-plaintiff trial, currently on a break, is scheduled to resume on October 30.

Of all of the labor-related cases in the industry, O’Connor is furthest along. Others have either settled or have not yet progressed far enough. If Liss-Riordan is successful, it could have a massive ripple effect on many Silicon Valley startups that rely on relatively inexpensive labor.

Since this case began, Uber has countered with Boutrous (who represented Apple in its 2016 battle against the Department of Justice over an iPhone unlocking issue) and his colleagues at Gibson Dunn, one of the largest corporate law firms in America. His presence shows just how seriously Uber is taking this issue.

Boutrous is also the same attorney who successfully argued an important labor case before the Supreme Court in 2011 (Wal-Mart v. Dukes), which also revolved around class-action certification. In that case, the country’s highest court found in a 5-4 decision that a class-action lawsuit brought by a California Wal-Mart employee who claimed that she had been mistreated had not been properly certified.

During Wednesday’s 9th Circuit hearing, Boutrous argued that existing differences in the precise circumstances of Uber drivers—who are free to seek other income through competing apps—make it such that they can’t possibly be considered a unified class.

“The District Court went through herculean efforts to say those differences didn’t matter,” he told the appellate judges.

For her part, Liss-Riordan argued that her cases presented “significant issues” that had never been previously considered.

In court filings, she pointed to a 2016 decision made by the Georgia Supreme Court (Bickerstaff v. SunTrust Bank) in which a lead plaintiff who rejected arbitration and then ended up representing a class was considered to have done so on behalf of all class members. But the Georgia Supreme Court is not binding on a federal appellate court, and the 9th Circuit panel seemed skeptical during the hearing in San Francisco.

“The argument is more than a little novel,” Circuit Judge Richard Clifton told Liss-Riordan.

Complicating matters further is the fact that the Supreme Court is set next month to hear oral arguments in Ernst & Young v. Morris, yet another case involving arbitration in labor contracts. The 9th Circuit, when it heard the case in 2016, found that Ernst & Young’s employment contract, which required arbitration instead of allowing employees to sue in case of a dispute, violated the National Labor Relations Act.

Uber, for its part, argues that this federal law is immaterial, as it only applies to employees, and the company doesn’t consider drivers to be employees anyway.

My Site Reliability Engineering Internship Experience with Uber

Mitali Palekar was a summer 2017 intern on Uber’s Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) team. In this article, she discusses her internship experience and shares lessons learned from her time here.

Internships can be intimidating, especially when they are at one of the most well-known companies in technology. 

Mitali Palekar interned with Uber’s Site Reliability Engineering team in summer 2017.

As a rising junior pursuing a degree in computer science, my internship at Uber represented the realization of a long-term goal. Aspiring engineers like myself dream about working on high impact, high visibility projects at companies that are impacting the way we live. As an intern on the Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) team, I was given an opportunity to learn from and collaborate with real-world engineers on features and improvements that impact their daily lives, including my flagship internship project, a tool to support rack distribution analysis with our cluster lifecycle management (CLM). In this article, I reflect on this project and the Uber intern experience at large, as well as outline key takeaways from my time at Uber.

 

Internship project: developing rack distribution analysis support within CLM

When I started my internship at Uber, I was excited to contribute to the changing landscape of a company whose products I regularly use and am genuinely excited about. Personally, I wanted to work on a project that allowed me to build a service or tool that benefited my team’s goals and future direction. Simultaneously, I wanted to delve into the day-to-day issues that my team faces and understand the full-time experience of a site reliability engineer at Uber.

Uber Compute, a division within the Core Infrastructure team, is responsible for scaling and supporting Uber’s internal services. As an SRE intern, I developed rack distribution analysis support for our cluster lifecycle management solution, a tool used for maintenance and remediation of our clusters and data centers.

This project gleans service, server, and rack-based information to provide insights into service placements on hosts and service-level agreement (SLA) adherence, both of which are foundational to Uber’s service reliability initiatives. The support interface and metadata enables engineers to better understand SLAs from a rack perspective as well as implement rack-aware service scheduling.

Figure 1: My internship project was a step towards developing a rack-aware placement of services by providing insights into service-level agreement violations and service placement information.

Architecting this system to allow for long-term service reliability, sustainability, and faster performance meant that we spent the majority of our time designing and iterating over system needs and user contracts. In the end, our hard work paid off in the form of an actionable model to bidirectionally graph relationship associations between services, servers, racks, and clusters, allowing users to query different objects based on specific use cases.

Figure 2: The high level architecture of providing for rack distribution analysis support with CLM.

Through this project, I was challenged to think about industry design decisions related to scalability, reliability, performance, and sustainability—considerations that are imperative to sustainable engineering. Equally beneficial, Uber gave me the opportunity to own a project from end-to-end that is impactful for Uber’s future reliability initiatives.

 

Finding meaning at work beyond work

As I grow in my career, I have very quickly realized the importance of shaping my identity as an engineer beyond code. As a strong diversity advocate and experienced writer, I was extremely keen on developing and leveraging my perspectives through my summer internship—and Uber provided me with platforms to do just that.

I volunteered to speak at intern open houses, wrote for the Uber Eng Blog, attended numerous on-site events, and participated in employee resource groups (ERGs) such as LadyEng, Uber’s women in Engineering group. These experiences have helped me develop a strong sense of identity, belonging, and community at Uber.  

My time here is a reflection of the “the more you put into it, the more you get out of it” ethos. These experiences have enabled me to gain a stronger understanding of my core values and the people that I want to surround myself with as an engineer. Moreover, through this community, I have inculcated important non-technical skills and identified key takeaways that will help me grow in my career post-graduation. Below, I outline some of these lessons learned:

Ask (the right!) questions

At school, one of the major pieces of advice from my senior classmates is to “ask questions because it’ll save you tons of time.” This line of thought has definitely helped me when I am unsure of how to use certain Uber-specific technologies or been faced with fixing obscure bugs.

However, more importantly, I have realized that it is also important to ask the right questions.  Make sure you do your background research—it will help you present your problem coherently, and show your manager that you have spent some time trying to figure out what the problem is and why it exists. Moreover, it indicates that you have the tenacity to solve hard problems, but also know when to ask for help. You are an intern—and you are not expected to know everything—so good communication always helps.

Be open, be flexible

During an engineering internship, there is a lot of iterating, especially in terms of design decisions and implementation details. However, when your internship is at a fast-growing company like Uber, ever-changing needs and service contracts must be factored in. Over the span of my internship, my project went through several iterations and I soon realized that it was imperative to be open and flexible to change. While it was frustrating at times, my manager gave me advice that will inform my outlook on iteration moving forward: “At any company, things are constantly changing and nothing is ever completely static. If you can deal with this changing landscape positively and still make progress on your project, that will determine whether or not software engineering is for you.”

Progress is not always linear—and that is okay

Every engineering internship is unique and different, and no matter the flavor, you will be pushed to solve new problems, be faced with a different set of bugs, and complete projects at a different pace. There will be days when you make rapid progress and push out hundreds of lines of code; other days, you will spend hours trying to debug a single lineand that is okay. Internships are a journey, and you have to accept that it is normal, if not expected, for progress to be “buggy.” It is all worth it when, after weeks or even months of work, you push your project to production and realize its impact.

Remember to have fun

While you are here to learn and contribute to your team, remember to take a step back and soak in the experience. It is very easy to get wrapped up in the nitty-gritty of your internship project and forget about the bigger picture. Make sure to get to know your team, your managers, your recruitersand most importantly, your fellow interns. Some of the most interesting conversations I have had with my colleagues have been learning about their backgrounds, their journeys as engineers, and their experiences at Uber. Dig deep, because the people that you meet today may shape the path that you take tomorrow.

Time really does fly by, but if there is one thing that I have learned this summer, it is this: even as an intern, youyour opinions, your experiences, and your ideas—matter.

Mitali Palekar was a summer 2017 intern on Uber SRE’s Platform Infrastructure team. She is currently an undergraduate student studying computer science at the University of Washington.

Learn more about the Uber Engineering intern experience by checking out other articles from our interns:

One millennial spent $1,230 on Uber, food and makeup in just 2 months

When millennials aren’t eating away from home, there is a chance they are using meal delivery kits to make dinner. Services like Blue Apron and HelloFresh, ranging at $60 to $130 a week, deliver the ingredients to your home to save you a trip to the market and provide the recipes to go along. Last year, Blue Apron made between $750 million and $1 billion in revenue, Bloomberg reports.

Though I don’t use those food services, I am subscribed to one beauty service I discovered a few years ago in college, where there were no department stores in my town.

For $10 a month, I received five or six product samples, which would often included my personal essentials and a few “fun” products I wouldn’t typically seek out. Aside from this service, I spent less than $50 in the last two months on personal care.

In 2016, Mic reported that these subscription services specifically target millennials because of how curious we are about trying new products.

“This business is about the art of giving to yourself,” Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at NPD told Fast Company in 2015. “Millennial consumers, in particular, love the idea of self-indulgence, and subscription companies really understand this.”

From splitting the check to DIY adventures, “Young Money” helps you navigate tricky financial situations.

Check out more in the series:

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Uber launches in Monroe Wednesday

CLOSE

RoeLa Roaster owner Byron Bailey discusses the ways transportation network companies such as Uber and Lyft can be valuable in Monroe.
Ashley Mott

Uber will officially launch in Monroe on Wednesday. 

According to a city statement, the service will start on Wednesday, Sept. 20 in Monroe, bringing access to safe rides and flexible work opportunities at the tap of a button.

The ridesharing service is expected to begin processing rides in the region this week and as early as Wednesday afternoon. 

Mayor Jamie Mayo is expected to hold an official press conference Wednesday morning where city and Uber officials will discuss the launch and how Monroe’s transportation network company, or TNC, ordinance is a model for the statewide ridesharing framework Louisiana residents deserve.

Individuals interested in driving on the Uber platform can sign up on the Uber website: https://www.uber.com/signup/drive/us/.

Uber background

In July, changes were made to a TNC ordinance first proposed, and ultimately tabled, in March, with the final version approved on July 25 by the Monroe City Council.

Mayo said, in a prior interview, that the city altered a Shreveport ordinance to create a less restrictive version conducive to the Monroe area. 

It removed language requiring a TNC to execute an agreement that would defend and hold the city harmless for any incident that causes harm to a third party and arises from the intentional or negligent acts of a driver or the TNC. The ordinance also featured less restrictive insurance requirements. 

The city does not receive a per ride fee, per the ordinance, but does require each TNC that decides to expand into Monroe to pay a $2,500 annual permit fee to operate in the city. 

Monroe’s ordinance moved forward in July after the failure of a statewide bill drafted to put the state, and not individual cities, in charge of regulating TNCs.

Follow Ashley Mott Reporter on Facebook for the latest city government news. 

 

 

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The challenges of driving a yellow cab in the age of Uber

If you want to know the effect Uber and Lyft are having on New York City’s yellow cabs, just take a ride to JFK’s taxi parking lot.

At any time of day, there are hundreds of cabbies waiting desperately, most of the time for hours, in hopes of grabbing the industry’s consolation prize — a $52 fixed fare back to the city.

Or go to any major hotel in Manhattan and look at all the taxicabs lined up outside. These cabbies are willing to wait for hours, hoping that when it is their turn, the passenger doesn’t just want to go 10 blocks.

With Uber and the other digital-based ride services scooping up more and more customers looking for cost-saving short trips around the city — and often doing it more cheaply than the yellow cabs — the taxi industry is in, to put it mildly, flux.

Chaos is a better word.

You’ve probably already heard the tales of woe: The price of medallions, which are the licenses to operate yellow cabs, have collapsed; taxi drivers are unable to pay their bills and New Yorkers are waiting on the street longer to hail a ride because so many cabbies are staying in those lines I just told you about.

Recently, I spent hours riding around with a cabbie I’ll call Ibrahim, a soft-spoken Pakistani-American who came here as a child. He’s been driving a cab for a just a few years in an industry where many of the cabbies are lifers.

To walk a mile in Ibrahim’s shoes I had to ride for miles in the shotgun seat of his cab.

I’m keeping his real identity secret because we talked about some things that the New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission wouldn’t be happy about.

Like other cabbies, Ibrahim started his 12-hour shift at 4 a.m. Journalists aren’t quite as hardy. I met up with him at 11 a.m. By then, he had picked up only four passengers, one of whom wanted to go to LaGuardia Airport, which isn’t as profitable as JFK because there is no flat rate. The meter runs for that one and it usually turns out to be cheaper.

Brigitte Stelzer

As we cruise the streets, we are hoping to find folks with luggage, which indicates they might want to go to JFK or — if our luck is bad — maybe just to their Aunt Mary’s downtown.

Despite the fact that some potential customers look worried because I’m in the front seat, we manage to pick up two guys on Lexington Avenue with bags. They are going to JFK — bingo!

Our riders say they thought about using Uber but haven’t gotten around to it — at least not yet, they say.

It takes us a surprisingly short 30 minutes to the airport and the guys — who are headed on a long vacation in Europe — tip $13.

That’s much better than the 60-cent tip a guy gave us earlier in the day for a short jaunt downtown, or the buck-and-a-half gratuity that a woman gave us for a trip up to an East Side hospital.

On the hospital trip, Ibrahim accidentally ran a red light that had a camera mounted on it. He was distracted by the passenger giving him directions that he didn’t need. His GPS said there was a faster way, but he obeyed the passenger anyway and made a right on the red.

That’ll probably cost him a $50 fine, but luckily camera tickets don’t put points on your driving license. “It’s part of the business,” Ibrahim said. “I only worry about the points violations.”

Those are moving violations and require a cabby to hire a lawyer. Why not defend themselves? “Because the lawyer has connections,” says Ibrahim, who is the father of three and has grandkids.

After we dropped the European vacationers off at the Delta terminal, Ibrahim took me to the cab parking lot, which is on the grounds at JFK but not very close to the terminals.

It’s officially called the Central Taxi Hold Lot by the Port Authority, which runs the airport, and there is room for a maximum of 500 cabs. On the day Ibrahim took me there, about 300 cabbies had logged in via an E-ZPass-like system and were waiting to be summoned to the terminal to pick up passengers.

There are 13,587 medallion cabs in New York City. They are not competing for business with not only Uber vehicles but also nearly 39,000 black cars, 22,000 livery cabs, 288 commuter vans and 2,206 paratransit vehicles.

Most of the cabbies stayed in their vehicles at the hold lot, but there were also a large number of card and dominoes games going on around a small cafeteria where drivers got a chance to eat and pee — the latter not a small need for people driving for 12 hours a day. (Taxi drivers also often give tips to hotel doormen to serve as entry fees to lobby bathrooms.)

Port Authority makes the wait a lot fairer. If a driver happens to get a passenger who doesn’t want to go all the way into Manhattan, he can come back to the airport and get on the “shorty” line, which doesn’t require him to wait as long for his next chance at a Manhattan fare.

With cabbies hurting for fares, how difficult is it for them to illegally bypass someone with their arm raised in the street? I’ll examine that particular phenomenon in the next column.

Uber sorry for ‘Wife Appreciation Day’ promotion

two men walking past Uber HQImage copyright
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Uber has apologised after being accused on social media of sexism in a promotional message sent to customers in Bangalore.

The message urged “husbands” to “let your wife take a day off from the kitchen”, with a discount on its Uber Eats food delivery service.

It said: “Dear husbands, a gentle reminder – today is Wife Appreciation Day.”

Uber later tweeted that the message had been “totally inappropriate”.

“We’ve removed it, and we apologise,” it said on the social media platform.

Uber’s chief brand ambassador, Bozoma Saint John, also tweeted it had been “completely unacceptable”.

“Sorry Uber but why do you think that only the ‘wife’ needs to be at the kitchen!” tweeted @GNUmanth.

However, the campaign did not cause much of a stir locally.

“Most people on Monday did not seem to know about the promo or even the negative impression it is said to have created,” BBC journalist Ayeshea Perera said.

“It did not create any impression on social media, and the story is missing from the city’s main tabloids and newspapers.”

Uber’s main competitors in the food delivery market were apps such as Zomato and Swiggy, she added.

“But if Uber is to be taken seriously, it will have to be careful to avoid carelessly worded messages like this one and come up with something more imaginative,” she said.

Sexism at Uber

This year, Uber conducted an investigation into claims of sexual harassment within the company, and fired more than 20 people following a damning review.

Senior executives who left the company included Uber founder and chief executive Travis Kalanick.

The review was carried out after a blog post by former Uber engineer Susan J Fowler, which documented her experiences of alleged sexism at the company, went viral.

Mr Kalanick described her experiences as “abhorrent” and against the company’s values.