Law regulating taxis not enforced

VIEWPOINT

This sure wasn’t surprising, I just read that the CEO of Uber, Travis Kalanick, has resigned from this company marred in chaos and sexual misconduct. As a partner in a PUC-licensed transportation company, I’d like to point out what is really wrong with Uber on Maui. Sexual harassment is bad enough, but it has more to do with safety and the stark absence of reliable insurance and accountability to the people.

In The Maui News’ “Ask the Mayor” column (Jan. 12, 2015), the mayor was incorrect when he said that Uber is a state or a Public Utilities Commission problem. Wrong, it is a county problem and there is a county law specifically on the books to prohibit this kind of unlicensed and uninsured operation.

I keep wondering who’s going to sue the county first, a tourist who gets hurt (no insurance money to pay their bills) and finds out the county was not following their own established laws, or the taxi owners filing a class-action lawsuit against the county for not protecting them as licensees. You can’t demand regulated fees/taxes from one group (taxis) and not the other (Uber/Lyft) doing the same function, unlicensed and uninsured. Does this sound a little unfair and unreasonable?

Maui County Code, Chapter 5.16.130 specifically covers and regulates taxis and taxicab-type operations (Uber/Lyft). The architect of this law saw something like Uber coming, and had the foresight to carefully define that a vehicle summoned, e.g., hailing via app, or flagged down and directed by a passenger to go somewhere for a metered dollar rate (Uber/Lyft calculate time/distance) is a taxi.

Further to this point in Chapter 5.16.130, it is written specifically to limit the number of taxis relevant to the hotel room count and the current population to avoid today’s dilution of available services by renegade saturation. The law also dictates that a driver of a taxi must pass a fairly detailed general geographic knowledge test of Maui first — currently, most Uber/Lyft drivers are relying solely on GPS — that’s unsafe.

Additionally, in the taxicab vehicle code the vehicle used must first pass a rigorous standards test with the state weights and measures system calibrating and certifying their meters before driving. Uber/Lyft don’t show their cars or driver app to any authority. This is wrong on too many levels.

How is this important? Uber does not commit to one overall rate 24/7 like taxis or limousines do. More often than not, their “surge pricing” pops up at dinner or rush hour or late evening and doubles the final rider’s fee. Uber justifies the unexpected rate gouging as a reasonable cost the customer will pay to assure service in peak hours.

If we tried that, we would be out of business the next day. You can’t charge people more when you have a customer over a barrel when you feel like it — it’s wrong!

People have gotten careless in the Mayor’s Office and not realized that virtually every Uber driver does not have sufficient insurance beyond the basic coverage and run under the fantasy that there is $1 million corporate policy to protect them at all times. The truth is you only have $50,000 of medical coverage in the event of an accident. Uber will only pay the million-dollar benefit in the case of gross negligence on their part dispatching a derelict driver or car. Also, many Uber drivers solicit tourists every day for side deals, not using the Uber app and leaving the tourist completely uninsured.

The big issue is not knowing who’s driving and how they were trained. No Uber driver gets any training or is checked out for alcohol or drugs and verifies they had enough sleep before they get behind the wheel.

Driving people independently is not a social experiment. It’s not an easy way to make part-time money. It is a serious enterprise that requires accountability. It’s time for the mayor to do something other than pass the buck for the next mayor. That mayor will likely get sued!

And, who is paying their airport fees and taxes? Not them, why would they? Nobody cares at the county enough to contact this non-taxpaying, unlicensed and uninsured California taxi dispatcher.

Technology company? Uber and Lyft are taxi dispatchers with credit card numbers to charge. Don’t let their Silicon Valley double talk fool you.

* Janet Grantham is a partner of Christopher Limousine on Maui, which is a Hawaii Public Utilities Commission-licensed multiple car operator specializing in airport and event service.

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