By Adrian Glick Kudler, December 16, 2014
Ride service Uber looks more and more monstrous every day, with every new news cycle delivering fresh allegations of crisis surge pricing, overcharging, shoddy driver background checks, unfair compensation practices, or proudly unethical executives, but the service is definitely convenient, especially in Los Angeles, where summoning a cab is an ordeal. (After UberX lunched in LA, taxi rides fell by about twenty percent.) So the Los Angeles Taxicab Commission's president is working on a plan that would turn existing, regulated cabs into Ubers, but without all the douchiness: the draft plan, from President Eric Spiegelman (producer of Old Jews Telling Jokes, Curbed contributor), would require all LA taxis to use e-hailing apps like Flywheel or Curb, and would also require that those apps be certified by the Taxicab Commission, reports the New Yorker.
Taxi regulation is weird in LA because drivers are all independent contractors who work for licensed operators; if the operators regulate drivers too heavily, the IRS could reclassify them as regular employees (Uber is also working to avoid such a scary, worker-friendly fate), so they rely on the government to provide strict guidelines. (Which is why they objected to Spiegelman's attempt to change the "black socks for drivers" requirement.) Through certification, the Taxi Commission could "specify things like pricing maximums and limits on hours worked in a single shift, and can perhaps even set up a rating and complaint system for passengers."
Via app certification, the Commission would also be able to ensure that taxis maintain their biggest advantages over private ride services, in "areas like vehicle safety, driver safety, guaranteed service to all neighborhoods, and service to the disabled." Uber drivers don't have to pick up a rider in Baldwin Hills or Pacoima if they don't want to, but taxis aren't allowed to pick and choose their customers; Uber recently launched wheelchair-accessible service in LA, but unlike accessible taxi service, it's way more expensive; cabs also have to be broadly insured, while Ubers are only required to carry personal insurance; taxis aren't allowed to dramatically increase pricing during storms or hostage crises.
Spiegelman will present his proposal to the Commission on December 18 and is hoping for a vote in January to require the apps and to create a working group to come up with certification requirements. He says that the e-hailing apps, which take a cut of fares and are sure to get lots of new customers out of the plan, are on board.