Why activists in Philly are furious with Uber and the Democratic Party-Demos Conspiring With UBER To Screw Philly Taxi Drivers

Why activists in Philly are furious with Uber and the Democratic Party-Demos Conspiring With UBER To Screw Philly Taxi Drivers
Why activists in Philly are furious with Uber and the Democratic Party
THE PARTY OF UBER 7/27/16 4:22 PM
Why activists in Philly are furious with Uber and the Democratic Party

By Andrew Joyce

PHILADELPHIA—Activists in Philadelphia are accusing Uber of colluding with the Democratic Party and using the Democratic National Convention to stymie efforts to regulate ride-sharing companies in the city.

On the first night of the convention, members of a coalition called Fair Ride Philly gathered in front of the DoubleTree hotel to protest the Philadelphia delegation as it returned from the day’s proceedings.

“Seventy billion dollar app! Riders get table scraps!” they shouted as delegates were led through a police barricade into the hotel.

Fusion/Andrew Joyce
A police barricade between DNC delegates and Fair Ride Philly protesters

The coalition, made up of local cab drivers, disgruntled Uber drivers, and people with disabilities, is angry with local officials and the national Democratic Party for partnering with Uber during the convention. They see it as an effort by the ride-sharing company to expand its presence in the city and subvert worker protections.

“I’m really disgusted with the Democratic national party,” Ronald Blount, the president of the Philadelphia taxi union, told Fusion. “They’re supposed to represent us working people, people who are less fortunate, people with disabilities, but it’s like they’re just rolling over for a shrimp cocktail and a ham sandwich.”

The DNC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Philadelphia’s taxi drivers and Uber have been in a protracted battle leading up to convention.

Ride-sharing companies like Uber were not legally allowed to operate in Philadelphia until a few months ago. In December 2015, Uber backed a bill in the Pennsylvania Legislature to allow ride-sharing companies to operate in Philadelphia, but it never came to a vote.

Uber and other ride-sharing companies appealed to the Philadelphia Parking Authority, which granted temporary permission for them to operate. Activists challenged the authority’s power to grant permission, and won a favorable ruling from a judge.

Then, just before the Democratic National Convention, an amendment to the state budget was passed giving Uber and other ride-sharing companies permission to operate until Sept. 30.

Activists told Fusion that Uber had used the convention to pressure lawmakers and gain a foothold in Philadelphia. They argued that the DNC, by partnering with Uber, was interfering in state politics.

The coalition also claims that Uber’s presence is hurting efforts to expand taxi access to Philadelphians with disabilities.

Activists claim Uber doesn’t have nearly enough cars with accommodations for people with disabilities, and that some riders with disabilities have been charged more for their rides.

A spokesman for Uber denied that riders with disabilities are being charged more. He declined to say, however, how many wheelchair-accessible cars the company operates in Philadelphia, calling it proprietary information.

The DNC has allowed Uber to set up pickup and dropoff points at the convention, funneling business to the company. Uber also offers special car services exclusive to delegates.

Inside the convention, the Democratic Party has highlighted its support for people with disabilities. Anastasia Somoza, an advocate, gave a speech blasting Donald Trump, the Republican nominee, for having mocked a reporter with a muscular disorder. Members of the Fair Ride Philly coalition said the party’s embrace of Uber is at odds with its support for Americans with disabilities.

Rebecca Hamell, a member of the coalition and a person with a disability, expressed disappointment with the party.

“What [Democrats] have shown through their actions at this convention is that they can identify that really blatant kind of discrimination, but not the more subtle, structural things that prevent disabled people like from participating fully in society,” Hamell told Fusion. “It’s more than just not making fun of us. That’s a really low bar.”

Fusion/Andrew Joyce
Rebecca Hamell, a member of the Fair Ride Philly coalition and an advocate for people with disabilities.

The coalition also includes disgruntled former and current Uber drivers who are upset that Uber drivers do not have the same worker protections as regular taxi drivers.


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Dan Saliv, a driver who used to work for Uber’s black car service, Uber Black, claims he was suspended by the company for circumventing its system of pickups and dropoffs.

He said Uber was unfair to require drivers to take fares that would have barely covered expenses, and offered no recourse to contest the fairness of the suspension.

“I went with my daughter to their office. I asked them to give me a chance, at least, to find another job, and then they deactivated me,” he told Fusion.

Craig Ewer, an Uber spokesman, would not comment on that driver’s case. “We have zero tolerance for any fraudulent behavior that makes it tougher for the vast majority of honest drivers to receive ride requests,” he said.

At the Republican National Convention, last week in Cleveland, some Uber drivers Fusion told Fusion they were upset that the company had flooded the city with drivers, forcing driver earnings to below the equivalent of minimum wage. Uber stressed that it was providing the best fares for customers.

DNC Loves UB & Airbnb "Drivers and disability advocates—who are unhappy about Uber’s lack of wheelchair-available vehicles—have staged protests outside the Democrats’ convention hall."
Airbnb and Uber Lobby Democrats at Philadelphia Convention
Joshua Brustein, Bloomberg - Jul 26, 2016 6:15 pm

Nearly 7,000 people attending the Democratic National Convention are staying at Airbnb properties, according to the company. Airbnb

It may seem hard to believe, but analog technologies like walkie-talkies, pagers, and even pen and paper are still the norm for many hotel employee communications.

As usual, Uber and Airbnb are using all the leverage they have as they lobby Democrats to reduce restrictions on the sharing economy.
— Brian Sumers
The Democratic National Convention is relying heavily on Airbnb to house attendees, and the company wants to remind the visiting politicians that it could use their support, too.

About 40,000 people are in Philadelphia for the convention, and Airbnb says 7,000 of them are using its home rental services, staying in spaces rented out by 3,000 hosts. By contrast, people have booked about 15,000 hotel rooms, according to the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The Democratic convention drew significantly more guests than the Republican convention last week in Cleveland, in which 1,100 Airbnb hosts rented out rooms to 2,500 people. That tracks a partisan divide in Airbnb users from past political conventions. In 2008, there were 49 hosts at the Democratic convention in Denver. Just two people rented out rooms at that year’s Republican convention in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Airbnb and Uber, the two giants of the sharing economy, hosted a panel in Philadelphia Tuesday morning to remind Democrats that their growing popularity comes with potential political opportunities and risks. A survey the company released at the convention found that 80 percent of millennials support Airbnb operating legally in their area. To make sure no one missed the point, Airbnb’s release noted that this included millennials living in swing states.

“If you’re a candidate whether running for president or really any other office, to quote-unquote ‘speak millennial,’ you ought to be talking about the sharing economy, because it is core and central to their economic future,” said Chris Lehane, Airbnb’s head of policy and public affairs and a former aide to President Bill Clinton. He added that by 2025 about 75 percent of all “voters and consumers” will be millennials or the generations that come after them. “The politics of this country is really going to evolve pretty significantly, given the attitudes, perspectives, and approach of that generation,” he said.

Airbnb has been working diligently to solidify its political connections in recent weeks, as it faces blowback over its response to racially discriminatory behavior from some of its hosts, and continued political battles in its most important markets. Last week it announced that it had hired former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to help it address racism. Two days later, the company formed an advisory council of former mayors to help navigate local regulations. Michael Nutter, the former mayor of Philadelphia and a member of the council, appeared onstage at the event Tuesday. Airbnb is also hosting an event on civil rights with BET in Philadelphia.

Still, the Democratic Party’s attitude towards the sharing economy is complicated. Earlier this month, three Democratic U.S. senators asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Airbnb to determine how the short-term rental market was exerting housing shortages and driving up the cost of living in already expensive markets. When Hillary Clinton published her plan for technology and innovation in June, she said that the digital economy was providing new opportunities but also raising new questions about the future of work and the efficacy of the safety net. Clinton said she’d bring together business and labor leaders to discuss the issue.

Philadelphia officials have embraced Airbnb. But the situation is muddier for Uber. The company has struggled to operate its UberX and UberPool services legally, and faces legal action from taxi companies that say it unfairly avoids regulations. Early this month, Uber reached a deal with city officials allowing it to operate legally until Sept. 30 to help alleviate short-term stress on the transportation system. Drivers and disability advocates—who are unhappy about Uber’s lack of wheelchair-available vehicles—have staged protests outside the Democrats’ convention hall.

Uber’s and Airbnb’s biggest fights over the next four years are unlikely to be waged against a Clinton or Trump administration. Instead, they’ll involve local and state governments, which find themselves in a tricky political situation. As the companies took pains to note on Tuesday, many Democratic voters are personal fans of their services and also see them as a sign of broader innovation. But Uber and Airbnb also inspire strong opposition from traditional power bases of the Democratic Party, like labor and housing activists.

Nutter, the former Philadelphia mayor, dismissed this opposition as both self-interested and inevitable during his panel discussion: “I’m quite sure that the horse and buggy hired the appropriate number of lobbyists and lawyers to fight Henry Ford and folks coming along with these newfangled things called cars.”

To contact the author of this story: Joshua Brustein in New York at jbrustein@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Robin Ajello at rajello@bloomberg.net.

A LOVE Letter to Philly
We’re proud that Philly’s playing host to the Democratic National Convention. This week, let’s revel in the diverse neighborhoods and delectable dining that have come to define our city and make it such an attractive destination—and place to call home.

On Monday, July 18, we’re kicking off a week-long celebration in the 215, bringing $2.15 uberPOOL flat rates and free food to several of Philly’s most unique neighborhoods.

Check out a sneak peek of the neighborhood lineup below and be sure to check here each day, as we reveal details on what we have in store.

• Monday - Spruce Hill
• Tuesday - East Falls
• Wednesday - Fishtown
• Thursday - East Passyunk
• Friday - Surprise!