By Tim Redmond
AUGUST 12, 2014 — If you believe a recent letter from Uber, a bill pending in the state Legislature would mandate that ride-sharing companies carry “twenty times the insurance that taxis must carry in California.”
The legislation, Uber says, “is part of a backroom deal put together by the insurance industry, taxi companies, and trial lawyers.”
What’s this nefarious measure that could do such damage to the good people with their disruptive transportation platform? Actually, it’s a pretty mild regulatory measure, AB 2293, that would require ride-sharing drivers to have exactly the same insurance as taxis in most cities, including San Francisco.
And it would mandate that insurance be in effect as long as a driver is actively looking for fares.
It levels the playing field to make sure taxis and faux-cabs have the same insurance requirements – and would prevent situations where neither the company nor its driver carries sufficient insurance to cover an incident like the death of Sophia Liu. Liu died when a driver working for Uber was logged into the system’s app – and was, by some accounts, looking at his cell phone – but hadn’t picked up a fare.
Uber says drivers in that stage are on their own. California only requires $15,000 liability for private vehicles, which leaves a huge gap if, for example, a pedestrian or another driver is seriously injured or killed.
And it’s one of the few bills in modern history that both the trial lawyers and the insurance companies – traditionally bitter foes – can actually agree on. Thus the claim of a “backroom deal.”
Actually, this kind of a bill was pretty much inevitable after Liu’s death. The lawyer who is representing the family notes in a SacBee oped:
The driver had only the minimum insurance on his personal policy to compensate Sophia’s family. Uber did not even offer to help with the little girl’s funeral expenses.
So, without adequate insurance, who pays the hospital bills and funeral expenses, or compensates for lost wages and the loss of a child? You and I, as taxpayers, and the people who were harmed. The Liu family faced more than $200,000 in expenses with no health insurance and no savings, while a company worth $18 billion paid nothing.
More accidents will happen; when people drive cars in cities, particularly when they are distracted by seeking a fare through IM on a smartphone (and do you really think these drivers all pull over to get and respond to messages?) there will be dangerous, sometimes fatal interactions with other vehicles and peds.
That’s why cab drivers have to carry much higher liability insurance – most cities require $750,000 to $1 million. Uber’s limos, like all limos, have to carry $750K.
So what’s this deal about “twenty times the insurance?” Well, Eva Behrend, Uber spokesperson, told me that the state minimum for taxis is $15,000 – which is true. But most taxi regulation in California is at the local level, and the cities where Uber does most of its business – say, San Francisco and Los Angeles — require $1 million in liability insurance for all cabs.
And Uber doesn’t operate in most of the smaller communities with lower insurance requirements.
So all the state is doing here is making sure that the ride-share companies (which cities don’t regulate as cabs) pay the same amount as the traditional taxis services in the big cities where they operate.
The minute a cab pulls out of the lot, its coverage is in effect. The bill would make sure the same thing happens with Uber, Lyft, and others. Hardly radical. Hardly enough to make a fuss about.
But a serious issue if an Uber driver kills somebody.
Oh, and by the way: If you were looking for a ride home from Outside Lands, Uber might not have been the best way to go. If a taxi driver went way out of the way, added several miles to the fare, and hit you up for $470, he or she would probably be looking at a lost license – and you’d have a Taxi Commission to complain to.
But hey: It’s the “sharing economy.” Who needs regulation?