Council Members Grill Uber on Prices, But What About Safety?

The City Council transportation committee heard testimony today on a bill to prohibit for-hire vehicle companies from “charging excessive rates.” Council members made no bones about the fact that they are taking aim at Uber, which raises and lowers fares in response to demand. Uber calls it “dynamic pricing.” It’s also known as “surge pricing” and, to some council members and Uber competitors, “price-gouging.”

Council Member David Greenfield, the bill’s primary sponsor, screamed at Uber reps for a good five minutes this afternoon over the prospect of a flip-flop-clad New Yorker fresh off the plane from Miami paying more than the prescribed amount for a ride home from the airport. Greenfield tweeted that traditional cab fleet owners, who donate heavily to local political campaigns, want a 20 percent cap on Uber “surge” rates. His bill would cap them at double the company’s normal price range.

Though it was the first time council members spoke publicly with Uber since company driver Aliou Diallo hit two pedestrians on the Upper East Side, killing Wesley Mensing and injuring Erin Sauchelli, legislators barely touched on the issue of street safety. Transportation chair Ydanis Rodriguez told Meera Joshi, chair of the Taxi and Limousine Commission, that he wants to talk more about the chain of accountability following cab-involved crashes, and a representative from Lyft (to whom Greenfield was far more cordial) said trip data requested by the TLC, and currently withheld by Uber, can help with crash probes. But no one asked the Uber spokespeople about the Upper East Side crash or the company’s safety practices in general.

The next time the council invites Uber to testify at a hearing, here are some things the public needs to know.

  • Does the Uber ride-hailing system create distraction for company drivers?
  • Does Uber collect EDR “black box” readings to ascertain speed and other data after a serious crash?
  • Was the Diallo crash the first fatality involving an Uber driver in NYC?
  • Does Uber keep data on the number and severity of crashes involving Uber drivers?
  • If so, is that data available to the TLC and/or the public?
  • Are Uber drivers trained by Uber for safe driving in urban environments?
  • Are drivers who are involved in serious crashes allowed to keep driving for Uber?
  • SteveVaccaro

    I would add…what steps do Uber drivers take to ensure that their passengers wait until the car has pulled over to the curb before allowing them to exit–to avoid the dooring hazard to cyclists from exits into the traffic lane?

  • Kevin Love

    So safety is less important than fixing prices? Wow!

    How about a new set of priorities: Safety first, and let a free market set prices.

  • Bobberooni

    I agree. I suppose that prices are fixed for street hails so you know what you’re getting into. That is no longer an issue with hailing by app, so I think we should let the market decide. Is a law limiting uber surge pricing even constitutional?

  • D’BlahZero

    What steps to Yellow, Green or livery drivers take? I understand that paying via app alleviates the end-of-ride transaction thereby potentially making for more spontaneous exits, but really the currently regulated drivers we have in this city are already pretty bad about this.

  • Rabi

    I’m so tired of the Uber pricing fight. If anything, anger over surge pricing just hits home the fact that people see personal automobile transportation as a right.

  • JK

    Did Meera Joshi mention any concerns about the safety and accountability of Uber? Uber seems like all the bad parts of medallions without any of the inspection, driver tracking, hearings or insurance. Agreed that Yellows and Greens are terrible about pulling over, discharging passengers into traffic lanes etc, but we need less of that,not new entrants who are just as bad, and may have zero corporate responsibility. Incidentally, instead of mandating price controls, how about mandating digital crash data and dashboard cameras? Can City Council identify with pedestrians and cyclists or only Uber passengers?

  • R

    Livery companies and medallion owners donate a lot of money to politicians so they can fight back against Uber. That’s why Greenfield and Rodriguez had this hearing. Dead pedestrians don’t have powerful lobbyists.

  • All-Powerful Bicycle Lobby

    But dead cyclists do.

  • 1ifbyrain2ifbytrain

    Safety concerns, profiteering concerns, moral concerns with those running the company, what sounded like a great alternative to our current system is starting to smell.

    If we are granting Uber the privilege to operate in our fair city ,shouldn’t we be able to regulate them in return?

  • Jeffrey White

    Until I see actual apples-to-apples data showing that Uber is somehow less safe than a yellow or green cab, all these arguments are completely without merit. And regarding the list of questions at the end of this post: Why not ask these of yellow and green cabs? Or of every cab company in the city? Why the bizarre fixation on Uber?

  • Brad Aaron

    “Why the bizarre fixation on Uber?”

    Since Streetsblog has been writing about cab safety for close to a decade now, I could ask you the same question.

  • Jeffrey White

    Card-carrying member of TA for years now, as a matter of fact. Do you have links?

  • Brad Aaron
  • D’BlahZero

    How do you propose getting apples-to-apples data if Uber won’t show us their apples? Uber is an incredibly high profile start-up positioned to threaten (for better and/or worse) the bloat, corruption, etc. of the NYC medallion order. Given the preview of StreetsBlog, I hardly think the coverage really qualifies as a ‘bizarre fixation’.

  • Jeffrey White

    That is not an apples-to-apples comparison of safety data. i could link you to many, many, many more TA articles about vehicular violence perpetrated by yellow and green cab drivers, but I could not claim that they are more dangerous based only on that anecdotal evidence.

  • Jeffrey White

    It seems strange that TA isn’t demanding black-box data from yellow cabs. It seems strange that TA isn’t asking whether scanning the side of the road for hails doesn’t distract yellow cab drivers. It seems strange that TA isn’t demanding the same detail from Arecibo or Eastern or Dial7. It just seems strange to me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for complete and accurate crash data, but singling out Uber for that seems misguided.

  • Jeffrey White

    Let’s have that for all hired drivers. Also, what would make any of us think that the T&LC background check is actually doing a damn thing?

    Remember Mohammed Faysal ­Himon? He’s the guy last year who in a bout of road rage gunned his cab at a cyclist in front of him, sending the cyclist flying over the hood of the cab. His taxi careened across a crowded Midtown sidewalk, crushing the leg of 25-year-old British tourist, Sian Green, against a wall and literally severing her foot. Her leg was so gruesomely smashed that it had to be amputated. There were dozens of witnesses and multiple angles of security camera footage of the incident.

    After the crash, the Taxi and Limousine Commission suspended Himon’s license for 30 days, and he was given a summons for operating a cab he was not authorized to be driving. The TLC then GAVE HIM BACK HIS LICENSE 30 days later, and he was back on the job within the week. Records show Himon racked up three moving violations for nine points on his license in 2011, including citations for running a red light and driving 65 mph in a 45-mph zone.

    How’re those background checks working, folks?

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/03/mohammed-faysal-himon_n_4037728.html

  • Brad Aaron

    You asked why we are “fixated” on Uber, and I gave you links to years of Streetsblog (not TA) coverage of yellow cab safety issues.

    Nowhere in this or any other Streetsblog story that I know of do we claim Uber drivers are more or less dangerous than yellow or green or other black cab drivers. We don’t know because that data has not been made public, which is in part what this post is about.

    I don’t know what it is you’re looking for, but what you’re reading and what I wrote are not the same.

  • Jeffrey White

    You’ve edited your comments; it is hard to keep track.

    I am in favor of asking all the questions you mentioned at the end of the article, but not only of Uber, and I am of the opinion that it is profoundly missing the point to imply that they somehow specially apply only to one company.

    Also, it should be noted that I am responding as much to the comments here as the original blog post 😉

  • Hi Jeff, Welcome to Streetsblog. I can see how if you’re new here, reading this post might give the impression that we only scrutinize Uber and not the other elements of NYC’s for-hire vehicle industry. Brad’s point is that we’ve been writing about the medallion cab industry for years (including many stories about the Sian Green case), and a single post about an Uber-centric City Council hearing doesn’t come anywhere close to encapsulating our full body of work on this topic.

    If anything, if you review Streetsblog’s reporting on cab safety, I think you’ll find that the share of posts about Uber is too low, given the company’s current size and reach in NYC.

    Also, Streetsblog and TA share many goals and our missions are most definitely aligned, but please note that we are wholly separate organizations.

  • JoshNY

    I didn’t read the original post as singling out Uber, I read it as criticizing the City Council for misplaced focus on pricing rather than on safety. Maybe I’m mistaken though.

  • qrt145

    Uber more or less claims that it is a Web company that merely provides (for a modest fee) match-making, transaction, and rating services for deals between private citizens who want to “share” a ride. Therefore their answer to all of your questions would likely be “not our problem”.

    Of course, many local governments disagree…

  • Frank Barlow

    Uber is a criminal enterprise.
    The fact was already established by EU court rulings.
    Hence the bans in Spain, France, Holland, Germany and etc.
    Uber’s management still facing prison time in S. Korea.

    It’s a shame to see NYC not regulate multibillion dollar Uber while regulating
    thousands of local transportation businesses that frequently offer same
    technology – apps, websites, or what have you.

    Regulate Uber as you regulate taxicabs. Because that’s exactly what Uber is.
    Even the original Uber’s own name – which was UberCab Inc. – implied precisely that. Uber is a taxicab operation, denying it is laughable and highly irresponsible.

  • Lyoshka

    How about a constitutional rights of this passenger? Free enterprise, market forces setting rates? Wake up, educate yourselves!

    $4K credit on a $16K charge for a trip from Brooklyn to Manhattan?

    https://twitter.com/J_francis613/status/590684883837648899
    https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CDKIxP0WIAAzIyU.jpg:large

    Get real!!!

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