An open reply to City Hall

Josh Mohrer
Jul 19, 2015 · 5 min read

Dear First Deputy Mayor Shorris,

Many thousands of Uber riders have complained to City Hall about Mayor de Blasio’s plans to cap the number of for-hire vehicle licenses in New York. Your response to those constituents made for interesting reading.

Despite past claims that the proposed cap is designed to deal with congestion, the word appears just once in your entire email. That’s probably because you understand that “the main reason traffic is slowing down is that the city’s economy is improving and its population is growing” (New York Times editorial, July 17th 2015).

Looking at the facts, it is clear that Uber is responsible for a relatively small percentage of cars on the road. 2.7 million cars and trucks enter New York City every day over toll-free bridges — by comparison, Uber has a little less than 26,000 vehicles on its platform in the entire city (only about 6,000 of which are being driven in any given hour).

The “problem” is economic growth, not Uber — and the solution is better public transportation, as well as innovative new services like uberPOOL, where two riders share the same car. By the way, Uber encourages the use of mass transit (especially in the outer boroughs) by providing a “last mile” link to the subway. Given the weakness of your congestion arguments (arguments which were dreamt up by the taxi industry), you now appear to be changing tack in an effort to justify curbs on Uber, no matter what.

So let me address head-on some of your assertions about safety and driver welfare. In terms of driver-partners, we have opened up opportunities for tens of thousands of people across the U.S., opportunities your proposed cap would close.

  • Flexibility: In a recent study, 87% of driver-partners said a major reason for using Uber was to “be my own boss and set my own schedule.” In fact, 65% changed the number of hours they worked by more than 25% from one week to the next.
  • Earnings: A typical uberX driver in New York City takes home the lion’s share of each fare after Uber’s fee is deducted. Some of this income is, of course, used to cover the price of gas and vehicle maintenance, but the rest is profit for the driver-partner. This is very different from the taxi model, where drivers must pay more than a hundred dollars just to start their shift.

And when it comes to safety, technology enables us to put this front and center before, during and after the ride in ways that others cannot. For example:

  • Before the ride: When a driver-partner accepts a request, a rider typically sees his or her first name, photo, license plate number and a picture of the vehicle. Riders can also check whether others have had a good experience with them.
  • During the ride: Riders can easily share ride details, including the specific route and estimated time of arrival, with friends or family. Uber uses GPS to keep a record of where a driver goes during the ride, creating accountability and a strong incentive for good behavior.
  • After the ride: Riders and drivers rate each other and provide feedback. Our safety team, which is working 24 hours a day, reviews this information and investigates any issues.

It is also important to remember that every single Uber driver-partner is licensed by the NYC Taxi & Limousine Commission, and drives a car with TLC plates. The city’s oversight of Uber follows a regulatory framework that has served New York City over the last 30 years.

Finally, your claim that “no-one is ending Uber as you know it” is simply untrue. With 25,000 New York City residents taking their first ride each week, the number of driver-partners needs to increase rapidly or Uber will no longer be the service people know and love. Pick-up times will rise quickly and the share of pick-ups that happen outside Manhattan, currently more than 35% — as opposed to 6% among taxis — will decline as an artificially-limited number of drivers chase demand where it is most densely concentrated (in the wealthiest areas). This will mean a return to the days of taxi, when only midtown or lower Manhattanites on sunny days had ready access to for-hire transportation. In addition, even if temporary, the cap would cripple ride-pooling services like uberPOOL and Lyft Line, which need lots of riders and drivers going in the same direction to work effectively.

As we said when we met at city hall last week, Uber wants to engage in a real debate about many of these issues — from expanding our accessibility options, to providing added revenue for mass transit. But that requires you to see beyond the interests of the taxi industry, whose proposed cap has nothing to do with the facts about congestion (or safety or workers’ rights or whatever else you choose to add to the list), and everything to do with past campaign contributions.

Josh Mohrer
General Manager, Uber New York


From: <firstdeputymayor@cityhall.nyc.gov>
Subject: Responding to Your Message re: Uber
Date:
July 17, 2015 at 5:31:39 PM EDT

Thank you for your message.

Rest assured, despite the overheated rhetoric — Uber is welcome in New York City. There are — and there will be going forward — more for-hire cars and drivers on our roads than ever before.

The reality is that today in New York City, Uber — a $40 billion corporation — is spending millions on a misleading political campaign to convince New Yorkers that it doesn’t need more oversight from the City.

Meanwhile, there are serious questions about how Uber treats its customers, its workers, and whether it is flooding New York City’s already heavily-crowded streets with thousands of more vehicles.

New Yorkers deserve a real examination of whether Uber drivers are treated fairly; whether customers are protected against discrimination; whether Uber and other for-hire services will provide accessibility for the disabled, which they don’t do reliably today; and whether New York City streets will become even more clogged as tens of thousands of more vehicles enter the market.

The City has a responsibility to keep people safe, to ensure workers and customers are treated fairly, to keep our streets moving, and to keep our economy competitive. That is why the City is supporting a temporary growth limit on new for-hire vehicles added to our streets, including those operated by Uber, while it can study their real impact over a short period of time.

Contrary to the misinformation out there, no one is banning Uber or ending it as you know it. The service you use today will continue to be there tomorrow, the day after, and in the months ahead. We want passengers to continue to have access to the ever-improving service that companies like Uber are helping to provide.

But no company, no matter how big it is or how much it spends on ads, has a blank check to skirt vital protections and oversight for New Yorkers. Protecting New Yorkers’ health and safety remains our first priority, and the City’s responsibility is to establish basic rules to do exactly that.

And all companies have to play by them.

Tony Shorris
First Deputy Mayor

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