Ride-Service Roundup: What’s Happening With Uber and Lyft Around the U.S. and the World

A Lyft driver navigates through Potrero Hill in San Francisco.

A Lyft driver navigates through Potrero Hill in San Francisco. (Sara Bloomberg/KQED)

As we’ve covered the regulatory triumphs and travails of San Francisco-based Uber and Lyft in California over the last several years, we’ve also kept an eye on how the companies are faring around the country and, in Uber’s case, around the world.

The transportation network companies, or TNCs, as California designates them, have done battle with legislatures, city councils, the insurance industry and especially local taxi companies and drivers in their remarkably rapid expansion into new markets.

“Disruption” is a tech conceit that has almost become a cliche, but there really is no other word for what the nascent ride-service firms have inflicted upon the heavily regulated business of taxis. They once provided a traditional fallback profession for those who either wanted a more independent work life or  a temporary bridge to a more conventional gig, but they’ve seen downward pressure on drivers’ ability to make a living due to the new competition.

More recently, drivers for Uber and Lyft, who once spoke so glowingly about the money and flexibility their driving jobs afforded them, have also started to grumble over cuts in their wages as a result of the firms slashing prices.

On any given day, dozens of news stories are written about Uber, a $40-50 billion juggernaut, and its much smaller top competitor, Lyft. Here’s a snapshot of what’s been going on recently, from a Florida regulatory ruling that an Uber driver qualifies for unemployment as an employee of the company, to Long Beach’s decision to relax regulations on its taxi industry so as to put it on a more even footing with  TNCs, to prosecutions against Uber drivers in Perth, Australia.


Ride-sharing services, Uber, Lyft growing in Akron area (Akron Beacon Journal)

Uber and Lyft, two ride-sharing companies that have been growing nationally and internationally, both entered the Akron market last year. Their presence is growing, coupled with a more robust market in the Cleveland area. … Uber has been in Ohio since October 2013 and is in all six of the major cities, Cleveland, Akron, Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton and Toledo, said James Ondrey, general manager for Uber Ohio and Kentucky.

Bloomington, Ill.

Uber pilot project reduces city’s role in regulating vehicles for hire (Pantagraph)

Uber, taxis and other vehicles for hire could do their own driver background checks and vehicle safety inspections under a pilot program the Bloomington City Council will consider Tuesday. Currently, the city and the police department are involved in that oversight. … Under the new proposal, the city will create a transportation network companies (TNC) ordinance that would require city audits twice annually. Audits would review records to ensure compliance with insurance requirements, performing safety checks on vehicles and checking drivers’ backgrounds, using multi-state criminal records and national sex offender registry databases.


Florida Says Uber Drivers Are Employees, But FedEx, Other Cases Promise Long Battle (Forbes)

Uber promises good open-ended pay, flexible hours, even discounts on vehicles. But employee status? No way. Health and dental coverage? Tax withholding? Nope. Darrin McGillis was a driver in Florida who was in a car accident so could no longer pick up passengers. Buzzfeed reported on the case in which McGillis couldn’t get Uber to help, so he filed for unemployment. Hey, I qualify since I’m effectively an employee, McGillis claimed. Sure enough, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity agreed with him that he was actually an employee. Predictably, Uber disagrees with the decision and will surely fight it vigorously. A separate report on McGillis’s case in The Miami Herald notes that Uber has managed to get similar state decisions overturned. Although the case only involves one Uber driver and in Florida at that, this case and the inevitable others like it will be watched. Recently, a survey showed that contract workers for Uber and numerous other companies don’t get benefits and have trouble getting them on their own.


Uber returns to Kansas after bill-signing Friday (Kansas City Star)

Uber has officially returned to Kansas, and Gov. Sam Brownback was one of its first passengers upon signing a new law designed to bring the ride-hailing service back to the Sunflower State. … Brownback’s signing of SB 101 puts an end to a controversy that has besieged the Legislature in recent weeks. … Uber announced it was pulling out of Kansas and halted all service earlier this month after the Legislature established insurance and safety regulations for ride-hailing services. Brownback vetoed the safety regulation bill, but the Legislature overrode his veto. Uber resumed service in the state within two minutes of Brownback’s signing of the new bill, which represents a compromise.

Long Beach

Long Beach allows taxis to lower fares as they compete with Uber, Lyft (LA Times)

Long Beach officials are pursuing a new strategy to resolve the growing rift between taxi drivers and ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft, becoming the nation’s first large city to relax restrictions on cabs, rather than increase regulation of their new competitors. Removing requirements that taxi drivers say have put them at a competitive disadvantage, the City Council voted Tuesday to allow its exclusive cab franchise to rebrand itself, update the appearance of its fleet and offer variable, discounted fares, free rides and other price promotions to lure customers.


Uber to launch in Ocean City, St. Michaels on Friday (WBAL)

Uber will start offering rides to smartphone-equipped beachgoers and vacationers in Ocean City and St. Michaels … the popular rideshare company announced Thursday. … It’s expansion to the Eastern Shore comes after it and other companies like it, including Lyft, won a key victory in Annapolis this past session, when legislators passed a bill outlining a new framework for the companies to operate legally in the state. Prior to the legislation passing, Uber had been in a protracted dispute over regulations with the Maryland Public Service Commission and representatives from the state’s traditional taxi industry.


Uber Launches On Cape Cod And The Islands (WBUR)

The ride-for-hire service Uber will begin operating on Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Friday. The service will launch in the beach communities at 5 p.m. Friday evening, just in time for Memorial Day weekend. … Regulations, however, are likely on the way. Gov. Charlie Baker last month proposed new legislation that would require ride-for-hire services to conduct background checks on drivers and ensure cars have proper insurance. It has not yet been taken up by the Legislature.


Legislature approves bill authorizing Uber, Lyft in Nevada (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

A bill authorizing ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft to operate in Nevada won approval early Saturday in the Nevada Legislature, but it didn’t happen without plenty of confusion. A 3 percent excises tax on fares, including on taxis and limousines, was also approved, which will raise tens of millions in new revenue, including $19 million to fully fund the new medical school at UNLV. In Assembly and Senate floor sessions that lasted until the early morning hours on Saturday, the Assembly signed off on Assembly Bill 175, sending it to Gov. Brian Sandoval, who is expected to sign the measure.

New York City

Taxi drivers fight back against Uber and Lyft (CNBC)

As valuations for major ride-hailing players including Lyft soar into the billions, the value of traditional taxicab medallions is declining. Medallions are city-issued licenses to operate cabs. But some New York City medallion owners are fighting back. They’re trying to craft their own app solutions, albeit with mixed results, and working longer hours to pay the bills.

NYC Uber drivers converting cars to yellow taxis (NY Post)

Uber drivers are transforming their black cars into taxis as part of a Taxi and Limousine Commission pilot project, The Post has learned. So far, five hacks have gone through with the makeover, and seven more are in the pipeline, the TLC said. … The program was approved in January, and accepts cars no older than two years, reversing a nearly 20-year-old TLC requirement that only new cars be added to the city’s taxi fleet. … It comes as Uber cars now outnumber yellow cabs, 14,088 to 13,587, according to TLC data released in March. Taxis still make more trips.


Uber Testing Self-Driving Car in Pittsburgh? Not Quite (PC)

Is an Uber self-driving car travelling around the greater Pittsburgh area? Unfortunately not. As much as we’d love to see a day when an unmanned vehicle can pick us up and take us on our way (and let us blast our Spotify playlists as loudly as we want), we’re not quite there yet. Though news reports have suggested that Uber is testing a self-driving vehicle around Pittsburgh recently, that’s not quite the case. That said, Uber does have some test cars driving around—easily discernible by their all-black appearance, Uber logo, and “Uber Advanced Technologies Center” branding on the side, in addition to the curious array of sensors and other electronic items attached to the car’s roof.


Uber’s Wheelchair-Accessible Option In Portland Doesn’t Work 9 to 5 (Oregon Public Broadcasting)

Four weeks have passed since Uber legally re-launched its service in Portland on April 24, after the city council, in a divided vote, approved a 4-month long experiment in taxi deregulation. … One of the city’s victories in the negotiations that allowed Uber to re-launch was Uber’s commitment to provide wheelchair-accessible rides. Uber provides some form of wheelchair-accessible service in several other cities, including San Francisco, Chicago and New York, but Portland was the first place where the company agreed to launch its wheelchair option, which it calls the WAV view, from the start. … Based on their own description of what they offer, Uber’s service appears to fall well short of the city’s requirements that transportation app companies provide equitable service to people with disabilities, including those in wheelchairs. The contractor Uber works with to provide wheelchair vans, First Transit, has no drivers working on the Uber platform during the day on weekdays, and has just one van driver working on call from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.


Uber, Lyft may soon be allowed to pick up passengers at Seattle airport (GeekWire)

Smartphone owners needing a ride from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport may soon have a few more transportation options. The Port of Seattle has been in negotiations with Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar — also known as “transportation network companies,” or TNCs — and could allow the companies to pick up passengers at Sea-Tac as soon as next month.


Uber Facing Another Setback As Texas Passes on Ridesharing Law (Bloomberg)

Uber Technologies Inc.’s attempt to replace a patchwork of local rules in Texas with a state law regulating its car-booking business is headed for defeat because lawmakers have yet to act on a key measure with only days remaining in the legislative session. Barring a last-minute change of course in the Capitol in Austin, the company will walk away empty-handed in the second- most-populous U.S. state as it seeks to expand after reports this month said a new round of funding would boost its valuation to an estimated $50 billion.

Washington, D.C.

Uber and Lyft could soon be operating at National, Dulles airports (Washington Post)

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority on Wednesday unveiled a plan to allow the popular app-based car services to operate at both airports. Under the proposal, the airports would designate waiting areas for rideshare vehicles so drivers could arrange trips with passengers while already on the airport premises. This would help reduce the customer wait time for the ride.

Can the Taxi Union Get the Courts to Shut down Uber and Lyft in DC? (DC Inno)

Uber, Lyft and Sidecar were given an unfair advantage by the regulations approved last year by the D.C. Council according to the Metro Area Taxi Operators Association. The taxi union, which is affiliated with the Teamsters, filed a class-action lawsuit with six D.C. taxi drivers in U.S. District Court against the city on Friday. The Vehicle-forHire Innovation Amendment Act of 2014 “creates an irrational, two-tiered regulatory system that unconstitutionally harms the economic and property interests of the Taxicab Service Plaintiffs and similarly situated taxicab permit holders,” according to the lawsuit.



Turf war intensifies between Uber and taxis after driver claims foot run over (Herald Sun)

A taxi turf war was behind an alleged dispute that saw an UberX driver run over a young cabbie’s foot in East Melbourne on Saturday night, industry insiders claim. Police are investigating the alleged incident, which Silver Top taxi driver Syed Rizvi says has left him with a bruised and swollen foot and unable to work for at least a month. Uber has hit back at the ­allegation, saying its driver was “intimidated and physically threatened” by taxi drivers at the scene of the alleged ­altercation.

WA Transport Department launches prosecutions against 19 Uber drivers (Perth Now)

WA’S Department of Transport has ramped up its action against ride-sharing smartphone app Uber, launching 19 more prosecutions against its drivers. A department spokeswoman said on Tuesday the 19 prosecutions were initiated earlier this month for failing to comply with a lawful direction of an authorised officer under the Taxi Act 1994.
“These prosecutions are a result of previously issued “notice to produce orders”. As these matters are now before the courts, DoT is not able to provide further comment,” she said. This brings the number of prosecutions against Uber drivers in WA to 20.


Chinese city of Guangzhou to launch Uber rival service (CNBC)

Guangzhou’s municipal government is planning to launch its own Uber-like online taxi hire service, only weeks after police closed the San Francisco-based transport app’s office in the southern Chinese city. The new company, Ruyue (meaning “by appointment”), will offer rides to customers using a smartphone app. However, the journeys will be provided by the four taxi companies with licences to operate in Guangzhou, which had faced competition from Uber before it was shut.


Uber Dealt Fresh Blow by French Court (The Wall Street Journal)

Uber Technologies Inc. lost a round in its ongoing legal battles in Europe, when a French court upheld parts of a transport law aimed at reining in the California-based car-hailing firm. The decision is a fresh blow to Uber, which faces a more important ruling on other elements of a law passed last October, in particular one that criminalizes Uber’s low-cost service, Uberpop, which uses drivers without commercial licenses.


Taxi App Uber Could Go Out Of Business In Hungary After Tax Authority Sting (Hungary Today)

An investigation conducted by the National Tax and Customs Administration has found that all Uber drivers examined broke tax regulations, and hefty fines suggest that the taxi app could go out of business in Hungary. During the first series of checks by tax officers disguised as passengers, conducted in May, the tax authority found that none of the tested drivers had a VAT number or produced an invoice. Drivers failed to install taxi meters in their cars and there were no blank receipts or invoices provided. The drivers, who were found to offer the service in a “business-like” manner, had neither a taxi licence or a certificate of medical condition. Those who were found to break the rules may now be hit by fines up to HUF 200 000 and the tax authority said that it will carry out further checks on every single Uber driver.


Italian court bans unlicensed taxi services like Uber (Reuters)

An Italian court on Tuesday banned unlicensed car-sharing services such as those offered by Uber, in another setback for the fast-growing US car service whose smartphone app summons rides at the touch of a button. Uber has been gaining popularity among passengers seeking lower cost car rides, triggering protests across Europe by heavily regulated traditional taxi drivers. The court in Italy’s business capital Milan said the Uber POP service, which links private drivers with passengers through an easy-to-use smartphone app, created “unfair competition”.

London, UK

Black cabbies prepare to cause London gridlock in protest against taxi app Uber (Mirror)

The drivers of London’s iconic black cabs will take to the streets this afternoon in a protest against Uber’s increasing domination of the taxi industry. Hundreds of cabbies are expected to descend on the Victoria headquarters of Transport for London at 2pm, potentially causing traffic to back up around the city. Today’s protest is organised by an organisation called United Cabbies Group, but its concerns are shared across the industry.

Mexico City

Mexico City Cabbies Block Streets to Protest Against Uber (Wall Street Journal)

Hundreds of taxi drivers blocked main thoroughfares in Mexico City on Monday to demand that authorities crack down on the popular ride-hailing service Uber, which responded by offering free trips throughout the day to its users. The protest against Uber Technologies Inc., its smaller Spain-based counterpart Cabify, and unlicensed cabbies turned parts of the capital’s streets into virtual parking lots dominated by the pink-and-white taxis that are licensed by the city government.

Ride-Service Roundup: What’s Happening With Uber and Lyft Around the U.S. and the World 27 May,2015Jon Brooks

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  • JGrant

    As a small business owner, I assure you that any small- to medium size business, that has as many law-violations, regulatory non-compliance issues, plain unethical and deceiving business practices as Uber, would long have been closed down no negotiations and no questions asked.
    It’s mind-boggling that uber’s bullying unethical fraudulent behavior is allowed in our legal business society. I have known small local transportation businesses that had their licenses revoked and businesses closed for far far less than what uber does day after day after day…
    Mind-boggling, and sends a dual message, first – that our authorities do not fully comprehend the bullying ego-centric law-breaking nature of the said enterprise, and second – is that “money talks” and that uber likely has few unethical politicians and regulators in its deep multi-billion dollars untaxed pockets.


Jon Brooks

Jon Brooks is the host and editor of KQED’s health and technology blog, Future of You. He is the former editor of KQED’s daily news blog, News Fix. A veteran blogger, he previously worked for Yahoo! in various news writing and editing roles. He was also the editor of EconomyBeat.org, which documented user-generated content about the financial crisis and recession. Jon is also a playwright whose work has been produced in San Francisco, New York, Italy, and around the U.S. He has written about film for his own blog and studied film at Boston University. He has an MFA in Creative Writing from Brooklyn College.

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