Is This the Future for Uber? Probably.
Here’s the deal. In the region of Catalonia in Spain (includes the city of Barcelona with a population exceeding 1.5 million – the Catalonian region in its entirety boasts a population of 7.5 million) has instituted new regulations for ride-hailing services. I suspect that these stiffer dictums are primarily aimed at Uber although Uber isn’t the only ride-hailing service operating in the region – Cabify, headquartered in Madrid, has 1800 service providers (like Uber, Cabify classifies its drivers as independent contractors) and it covers roughly 40 cities – 7 in Spain, the company also has a significant presence in South America). And the window for transition to the regional Parliament’s new rules is relatively small, as these updated regulations will be in effect almost immediately (however there could be a delay as the Parliament of Catalonia must also approve the measures – an action that could take several weeks).
This move by the regional government should certainly help traditional cab companies. Across the world, as cab companies decry an unequal playing field, governments are being urged to adopt regulations that would rein in these ride-hailing services (today, in most locations where they operate, these startups face clumsy regulation at best).
So what does the updated regulation do? For one thing, it requires a minimum of fifteen minutes from booking to pick-up (everybody knows that these ride-hailing services are renowned for zipping around and executing speedy pick-ups). Passengers in Catalonia are going to have to wait. Drivers too will be forced to wait – perhaps longer than fifteen minutes (by new rule, the fifteen minute wait time can be extended in individual municipalities if their local governments so choose). The Catalonian officials justify these updated (and pretty harsh) rules with the following statement (in their very own written words): they are designed (the rules) to better manage the “use of public road domain, urban traffic management, environmental protection and the prevention of air pollution.”
Uber has stated in the past (as has Cabify) that they would cease servicing the Barcelonian market if a wait time for their drivers was enacted. Should they reconsider, they will be required to update their software to accommodate the region’s new regulations – which may not be as smooth a process as it sounds. In addition, apps will no longer show for-hire vehicle locations prior to booking – only after booking their rides will passengers have access to that information. And for-hire automobiles will no longer prowl the city streets seeking passengers – from now on, they’ll spend their downtime at a base (something like a depot or garage) – until a booking occurs. Drivers caught breaking the updated rules will be subject to a potentially substantial fine. Local police, in their pilgrimage to weed out infringers, will have the authority to halt and inspect any car and driver that they have deemed suspicious.
Uber has reiterated publicly that these regulations will force it to discontinue operations in Barcelona (a win for traditional cab companies and their drivers). Cabify has warned of the same, however it may be tougher for the Spanish-based company to leave what’s proved to be a lucrative area. Does the Catalonian Government really care if these young companies go away? Probably not a lot. In fact, I’m betting that they’re happy as larks in the halls of the Palau de la Generalitat de Catalunya (the historic elderly building where they meet) to see companies like Uber and (to a lesser extent) Cabify take their action someplace else. Traditional cab companies have plied the government to initiate drastic measures in order to protect them from what they see as unfair competition – measures such as limiting ride-hailing services to 1 car for every 30 cars a cab company puts on the road, and/or decreeing that ride-sharing passengers book their drivers 24 hours in advance. These extreme measures haven’t happened, and frankly probably won’t. However as traditional people-moving companies seek an equal playing field (or a field perhaps tilted in their direction) with the invasive (they vehemently believe) ride-hailing startups like Uber and Cabify. It’s fair to say that traditional cabbies – who very much stand together on this – with their protests have crippled traffic on streets and even shut down whole cities.
Below are a handful of the publicized incidents (courtesy of atchisontransport.com – if you’re interested in a more voluminous list than mine, have a look at the Atchison website) involving some of Uber’s drivers and the drivers of its rival on-demand ride-hailing service, Lyft:
**7 year old girl in San Francisco died after being struck by an Uber driver (interestingly and completely predictable, Uber spiritedly denied any responsibility for the incident, hiding behind its veil of independent contractors in lieu of true employees) (May 7, 2014)
**Valet in Atlanta faced a gun-wielding Uber driver (September 8, 2014)
**Passenger in San Francisco was assaulted with a hammer (and received multiple blows to the head to prove it) by a ride-sharing driver (September 30, 2014)
**In Los Angeles an upset Uber driver violently hurled his female passenger onto the street (June 4, 2015)
**Resident of Virginia claimed that an Uber driver molested her teenage daughter (daughter was just 13 years old at the time of this incident) (June 16, 2015)
**Chicago driver exposed himself to a woman passenger (in this case, Uber actually conceded that the driver’s background check should have disqualified him as a worker) (June 26, 2015)
**A woman passenger in Australia suffered a broken leg after she was attacked by her Uber driver (September 8, 2015)
**Another passenger was punched in the face, this time in Indianapolis (November 20, 2015)
**Across the Atlantic, a woman passenger in London had her face punched and was forced to endure racial taunts from her apparently xenophobic driver (November 30, 2015)
**Authorities arrested an Uber driver in Scottsdale, Arizona for a New Year Day sexual assault of his teenage passenger (January 1, 2016)
**A California woman was punched in the face and, in the process, ended up suffering a broken jaw – the culprit was her angry Uber driver (January 13, 2016)
**An Uber independent contractor drew a gun on his passenger in Florida’s Manatee County (January 26, 2016)
**One of Uber’s drivers viciously slashed a passenger in Arizona (and was subsequently arrested for the assault) (April 18, 2016)
**Another of Uber’s independent contractors murdered 6 people and wounded 2 others in Kalamazoo, Michigan (February 22, 2016)
**A passenger in California’s Orange County was raped by her Uber driver (who ultimately faced 3 felony charges for the encounter) (March 17, 2016)
**An Uber driver was arrested for strangling a university student (at the time, she was attending the University of Delaware) in the parking lot of her dormitory (May 23, 2016)
**A 52-year-old Maryland driver was arrested after shooting at 2 police officers – a fine job of vetting by Uber here, it turned out that this man had multiple outstanding arrest warrants (May 26, 2016)
**In Los Angeles, an Uber driver forcibly stole his passenger’s cell – and threatened him with bodily harm if he dared to register a complaint about it (June 20, 2016)
**According to Chicago prosecutors, one of Lyft’s independent contractors groped a passenger – and threatened her with physical violence when she attempted to resist (June 28, 2016)
**In Atlanta, two gay men found themselves staring into the wrong end of a gun barrel because their driver had decided that he didn’t approve of their lifestyle – they walked away from the event shaken but unharmed (July 1, 2016)
**Oshawa, Canada saw an Uber driver’s sexual assault of a young boy he was transporting (June 15, 2016)
**A 20-year-old woman in London was dragged along the street by her driver’s car following a dispute over the return of her mobile (she had inadvertently left the phone in his car when she was dropped off) (July 19, 2016)
You get the idea. When all is said and done, Atchison chronicles well over 100 sexual assaults, a plethora of physical assaults, many threats by weapon-wielding drivers – and this behavior happens to be wide spread and pervasive, extending from California to Oklahoma to the Carolinas, reaching from Washington D.C. to the Pacific Coast’s Palo Alto, moving from China to India and from Mexico to Australia and the UK. Is it even safe for a woman traveling alone to risk a ride from Uber? Is it safe for anybody to take an Uber ride – you could end up facing a deadly weapon or a beating. On the other hand, is it safe to be a ride-hailing driver for Uber, Lyft, Cabify, or other similar services. Just within the last week, a pregnant Lyft driver was brutally murdered and her car stolen – the good news is that this perpetrator was quickly apprehended.
The conclusion I’ve drawn is that these ride-hailing services are far from safe. And that could be bad news for the Ubers of the world. In fact, what is happening in Catalonia is likely to be a model that multitudinous jurisdictions watch closely, as they too grapple with ways to reel in these fly-by-night and utterly careless startups. Now to be fair, enterprises like Uber (with its 6 million daily rides), Lyft (boasts 1 million plus daily rides), Cabify (its lofty valuation (in the range of $1.5 to 2$ billion dollars and growing)) all claim to feature comprehensive vetting processes (in the case of Uber, drivers must pass a psychological test, provide a blood sample to ensure that there’s no drug or heavy alcohol use, and they must also prove that they’re familiar enough with a city to navigate it properly – I’ve heard that this last test is the most valued by the company, and it has absolutely nothing to do with passenger – or driver – safety);- and clearly the vast majority of the daily rides Uber, Lyft, and Cabify book end up satisfactorily. My belief is that way too many reprobates are still slipping through cracks in the process, garnering jobs with these popular ride-sharing startups, then using those positions to put customers in significant danger if the stars are rightly aligned. These ride-hailing services have an inadequate vetting process at best – at worst the process is inept or indifferent – it may be that ride-sharing companies are willing to expose a handful of passengers to rape, robbery, even murder in their obsessive focus on fulminating growth and outdoing their competitors in this young but burgeoning industry. Government officials are beginning to see that these high-flying startups need some manner of regulation as the horror stories gain prominence, and the Catalonian region of Spain may well spell out their future. And we didn’t take up the topic of these entities classifying their drivers as independent contractors rather than employees – a dubious and probably dishonest practice at best.