The City and TLC Treats Uber and Lyft Unequally From the Rest of the Industry

By now, Uber is known for a uniquely aggressive approach to establishing a market foothold: They push themselves into a market, cause a ruckus, upset people, break rules and then (seemingly as a last resort) work on bringing everybody together. In New York City, the local government and the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) allowed Uber and Lyft to operate in an illegal fashion for so long that the TNCs were eventually absolved from their past indiscretions, in exchange for finally submitting to the TLC’s regulatory scheme.

At this point in time, we are used to the personality of Uber, which consists of using unfair and often illegal acts to dominate the world. While we do not condone this behavior, the TLC’s actions of continuing to accept Uber’s plea for forgiveness, rather than mandating that they ask for permission first, is arguably more reprehensible than Uber’s own conduct. Because of the disruption caused by Uber and Lyft, the TLC has now taken the approach of regulate first, then ask questions later. But the TLC still fails to recognize or admit that their well-intended regulations continue to be ignored by Uber and Lyft – and their acts of absolving Uber from continued violations is not only inherently unfair, but often does more to restrict entrepreneurs than protect consumers.

The livery industry is so upset, not because they are being beat by technology, but because we now have to compete against a company who is not required to play by the same rules. What is more unfair than the government treating two entities that provide the same service in an unequal fashion?

Uber and Lyft relish their status as disrupters and have a long record of operating in violation of local laws. They have done this in New York, across the nation and around the world. While the TLC eventually drafted new rules for Uber and Lyft to play by in a fair fashion, the TLC’s failure to enforce these rules is reprehensible. Uber and Lyft are still continuing with their dirty old tricks. After causing the breakdown of the yellow taxi and black car industries, Uber and Lyft are now after the livery industry, seeking to conquer it with tactics that completely disregard existing laws.

Uber and Lyft's latest trick involves a direct attack upon the livery industry. A year ago, the de Blasio administration passed a rule that prohibits what's called “cross-dispatching,” where black car bases (like those owned by Uber and Lyft) cannot dispatch livery cars and vice-versa. This might seem like some obscure regulation, but the rule was created to protect livery customers who typically live outside Manhattan and can’t afford Uber's diabolic surge pricing practices. (Many livery customers don’t even have a credit card, which is necessary for all Uber transactions.) The rule was also created to protect livery drivers who are not covered by either the Black Car Fund or the Livery Fund. If a livery driver accepts a dispatch from one of Uber or Lyft’s black car bases and is subsequently involved in an accident, they are covered by neither Fund. Furthermore, when Uber and Lyft illegally dispatch a driver affiliated with a community car base, they also hurt the poorer and older members of our communities who are supposed to receive a binding price quote when a livery driver picks them up. The binding price quote is the protection afforded to those members of our community who request services via a livery driver, and it is one of the primary differentiators between a livery base and a black car base.

While Uber and Lyft’s illegal and underhanded tactics are despicable, what is even worse is that the TLC has ignored the pleas of the livery industry to compel Uber and Lyft to comply with the law. For example, several livery bases and myself, on behalf of the Livery Roundtable, have already alerted the TLC about Uber and Lyft’s illegal activities, and even provided them with proof, but the TLC has, to date, done nothing to stop them. If the TLC refuses to hold Uber and Lyft accountable for their illegal actions, then how can the TLC claim to be fair and purport to apply the law equally to all those that come under their regulatory authority. The TLC is too busy figuring out how to regulate more, rather than enforce the regulations that already exist. What is the good of more regulations when the TLC does not enforce the ones they have in the first place?

It is one thing for a company to enter the marketplace with a superior product and/or provide superior service and obtain market share on those merits. It is another story when entities, such as Uber and Lyft, are able to enter the market, totally disrupt it, break the law, and be absolved of all wrong doing by simply asking for forgiveness. If this was all in the past, I would move on to other issues, but I am talking about the present. The TLC still has not taken any action in response to the uncontroverted proof that I submitted to them of Uber’s illegal actions.

I suppose to the TLC is it is acceptable for them to have two standards – one for Uber and Lyft and one for the rest of the industry. The livery industry is not Uber or Lyft, and will never be. We pride ourselves on being made up of over 400, mostly mom-and-pop car service businesses. The problem is that the livery industry is worried that because of Bill de Blasio’s bruising fight with Uber last summer, the administration will continue to take an even more hands-off approach to Uber and Lyft. Uber and Lyft should not get a free ride at the expense of car service companies and their customers, just because they have the money to launch a strong marketing campaign against the de Blasio administration. We hope the administration takes action… and fast. While the TLC sits idly by, our businesses and customers are suffering.

By: Steven J. Shanker, Esq.