Recent Press

Rogue Transportation Apps Pose Grave Safety Threat

 

Apps that allow people to hail taxicabs and limousines are spreading rapidly across the United States. Some of these are wonderful innovations, allowing a passenger to hail a taxi with the push of a button. Others, called “rogue apps,” can amount to little more than 21st century hitchhiking, and can be every bit as dangerous.

The first major rogue app to appear was Uber. It showed up in cities and didn’t ask anyone for permission to start operating on-demand vehicle service. When regulatory officials caught up to them to try to make them play by the same rules as taxicab and limousine companies, Uber unleashed its followers and PR machine in an attempt to browbeat authorities under the guise of supporting innovation. In some cases it has worked, while in other instances Uber has complied with local for-hire vehicle regulations or is in litigation.

Now comes an even greater threat to public safety, the so-called peer-to-peer ride sharing apps. These allow almost anyone with a vehicle who can pass an undefined background check to suddenly play taxi driver on a Saturday night to pick up extra cash. These include apps such as SideCar and Lyft, both of which purportedly claim that no one can regulate them because passengers pay suggested “donations” rather than a required fare.

The vast majority of licensed taxi drivers in the US, for example, have to undergo stringent criminal background checks through a government regulatory agency. If these drivers for Lyft or SideCar are not governed by a regulatory agency, how can these companies assure us that their drivers have clean criminal records? A Google search — or will they simply sign a piece of paper self-certifying their own clean record? These companies are fond of saying they run background checks, yet are vague as to how they do that.

Such apps open wide the door for sex offenders, felons or just plain bad drivers to get behind the wheel and drive unwitting passengers around town. At South by Southwest Interactive in Austin, Texas, this year, The New Yorker magazine reported that drivers for Uber recruited for the conference were given as little as five minutes of instruction before they hit the street and started picking up passengers.

Speaking of passengers, as someone who has been involved in the taxicab industry for decades, I can say that drivers meet all kinds of people. Many are nice, quiet passengers. Others can be violent, angry, drunk, belligerant, cheap, haughty, or any combination thereof. The dangers that can ensue when a relatively untrained driver meets up with a difficult passenger are easily imaginable. In Washington, DC, a passenger has launched a $750,000 lawsuit involving an Uber driver who allegedly slapped him, spit in his face and told him he “hates Americans and homosexuals.”

Don’t worry, say the rogue apps. They tell us that their services will, over time, weed out the bad apples by rating passengers. This practice opens up the enormous possibility of discrimination. Secret ratings of passengers fosters and institutionalizes unlawful denial of service based on a passenger’s race, age, sex, neighborhood, use of a service animal, or use of a wheelchair. Passengers could be effectively banned from future service because they are a minority, or because the driver didn’t want a service dog in his vehicle, or because he felt the payment or “donation” wasn’t big enough.

Regulations provide assurances that all passengers must be treated equally. Limited regulation is crucial to the survival of accountable, non-discriminatory service. Regulation sets the number of taxicabs on the streets. Without it, the streets would be flooded with taxis. Are you a student who needs an extra 50 bucks tonight? All you have to do is sign up as an app driver, drive your car around and poach customers from the taxicab driver working the same streets. The city isn’t counting you as a licensed driver bcause you aren’t regulated.

Now imagine 250 students, or 1,000 students, all trying to do the same thing on Saturday night in the same city and you get the picture of what deregulation looks like: utter chaos where quality of service plummets and every ride turns into a negotiation. Equally critical, these students presumeably have regular car insurance, but regular insurance does not cover commercial transportation service. So the students and the passengers would both put themselves at great risk.

To put part of this issue in context, consider that in the 1970s and 1980s deregulation, including in the taxicab industry, swept across America. Cities found it was the wrong direction (higher fares, increased trip refusals, significant overcharging of passengers, other illegal activities, aggressive solicitation, vehicles operating without insurance, deterioration of vehicles, dramatic consumer complaints) and have since re-regulated taxicabs.

The taxicab industry believes in limited regulation that provides for the safety of the public, including commercial taxicab insurance; that sets fares to avoid price gouging; and that serves all areas of a community at all times in a nondiscriminatory manner.

Rogue apps, meanwhile, refuse to characterize themselves as taxicab dispatching services and insist they do not need to comply with local laws governing all other taxicab dispatching services.

What about serving the elderly, low-income or disabled? The elderly may not have a smartphone with which to use an app in the first place. Low-income residents may not have a credit card, a requirement of most apps. Passengers with disabilities—especially those who use a wheelchair—might as well not bother hailing Uber, SideCar or Lyft for an accesisble vehicle with a ramp, because those services claim they don’t have to comply with regulations so they don’t have to offer those types of vehicles in their fleets.

I want to be clear: no one is saying the public shouldn’t have access to transportation apps. The public wants apps, and our industry wants apps that connect them with more customers. However, for a reasonable debate over how apps are used to move forward, the public and regulators need to fully understand the dangers being opened up by drivers with little to no training or background checks, operating vehicles that are not subject to the same safety and insurance standards as regulated taxicabs.

If rogue apps are allowed to continue, it’s an inevitability that passengers will be harmed at the hands of unprofessional drivers—leading us too late to realize we should have done more to enforce taxicab regulations that protect public safety, guard against discrimination and ensure community-wide service.

Alfred LaGasse is the CEO of the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association.

The Use of “Rogue” Apps for Ordering Taxi Services at Airports

 

At first blush, the issue of rogue phone apps to arrange local taxi services may seem to be an issue impacting only local taxi regulatory authorities. However the primary market being targeted by such technologies is that of the airport taxi and limousine market. As such, it behooves the members of the Airport Ground Transportation Association to become involved and to understand the issues surrounding these apps in order to determine what issues or actions(s) if any might be appropriate.

Rogue taxi apps are simply defined as web-based and/or cell phone based sites that electronically connect the user seeking a taxi ride to the closest taxi driver that has signed up to be on their network. Using this operational methodology, these rogue apps information providers are able to avoid compliance with local regulations as they dispatch cabs or limousines. In essence, they are operating as taxi and limousine dispatch companies without bothering to obtain a license or comply with any requirements of the local ground transportation agency.

The primary firm involved in this activity at this time is UBER. In current litigation, this firm is challenging traditional city taxi and limousine regulatory authorities, arguing as a defendant that they not dispatch companies, and therefore do not fall under local regulations. Their primary argument is that they are using new technology to assist taxi drivers to secure more business. Under their contention, they are similar to other travel internet firms such as Expedia or Travelocity, and are merely providing information to the potential customer and accepting payment as service to their customers.

These types of transportation apps have the potential to become extremely popular and cities, and to a more limited extent airports, need to be prepared to respond appropriately to this new technology and its implications for the public. Instead of electronically connecting the user with a taxi or limousine (sedan) dispatch system which uses its automatic GPS based system to offer the trip to the closest or next in the zone for pickup, these rogue apps connect directly to the taxi or sedan driver.

Basically, local regulators need to determine whether the public’s interest is being served by these rogue apps. For airports, however, there are at least two serious questions to address. One is the need to determine how this rogue app is different from an individual taxi driver giving his contact information to a user or using his own web site on the internet to ask users to call him directly. The other, is the rogue app provider conducting a business from the airport when a customer is in the airport and requests a taxi or sedan ride?

Local taxi and sedan regulators, as well as operators, have vocally protested these rogue apps as not being in the public’s interest, arguing that they will cherry-pick the best fares (i.e. airport trips), leaving local operators with the obligation to serve the transportation dependent users –– often poorer inner city residents. Secondly, these local groups further contend that these apps are not the same as Expedia/Travelocity-type internet sites, but rather, taxi or sedan dispatch companies and should follow the same local regulations as the local companies.

It is the position of AGTA (the Airport Ground Transportation Association) that airports and their ground transportation operators should support the position of local regulators — that these rogue apps companies are dispatch companies. Furthermore, when such apps are utilized to arrange trips from the airport, they are essentially conducting a business from the airport and therefore, should be required to apply for an airport business license to do so –– taking full legal responsibility for airport trips.

SideCar, a new ride-sharing service, arrives in D.C.

 

Looking for some company — and maybe a little cash — the next time you drive? A new ride-sharing service wants to help.

SideCar, an app-based service that is basically a 21st-century version of carpooling, arrived in the District on Friday.

The premise is simple: Travelers can use the app to hitch rides with nearby drivers, while drivers who sign up can get paid for giving these rides. There’s no set fee, so passengers can pay the drivers any amount. (The app does come with a suggested donation, but riders can pay more or less if they want.)

Of course, the idea of getting into an unfamiliar person’s car raises some obvious questions. But the company says it takes safety seriously.

“Every time you get into a taxicab you get into a stranger’s car,” said Nick Allen, the company’s co-founder. “And we go through a lot of measures to make sure it’s safe.”

Allen said that all drivers are given a “full background check,” which includes looking for any criminal history. SideCar also verifies that drivers have license, insurance and registration. Drivers are also given additional training, and all rides are tracked by GPS.

Riders also have the option to pick specific drivers or, if they want, to block some drivers from seeing that they need a lift.

SideCar began offering rides in San Francisco, where the company is based, and in Seattle in 2012. It began service in Austin, Los Angeles and Philadelphia last month, and expanded into New York, Boston and Chicago last week. D.C. represents the last bit of expansion for now, Allen said.

The rollout hasn’t been without any headaches for the company, which raised $10 million in financing from Google Ventures and Lightspeed Venture Partners last November. SideCar sued Austin recently, following a cease-and-desist letter from the city accusing the company of running an unlicensed taxi service, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

After SideCar arrived in Philadelphia, the city responded by impounding and fining vehicles. Last year, a California commission fined SideCar and similar services for lacking the proper permits.

The notion of an app-based car service encountering problems with local officials obviously sounds familiar in the District. Uber, the car-dispatch app, had repeated problems with local officials before gaining legislative acceptance in December.

Allen said that Uber and SideCar aren’t really comparable, because Uber is a car service that charges a fare. But he said these early hiccups are just a matter of regulators trying to figure out how to properly oversee these services, which don’t always fit into preexisting categories.

“They think we’re a taxi or a limousine, and we’re actually very different,” Allen said. He said it’s more like an app-based slug line.

For the first few weeks, SideCar will only be available on Fridays and Saturdays between 5 p.m. and 3 a.m. the following morning. After that, it should become available every hour of every day of the week — as long as drivers are available.

“It’s just another option in transportation,” Allen said. “There’s buses and there’s trains and taxis and personal automobiles, and we are another option.”

The app is available on Android and Apple. You can follow SideCar in D.C. on Twitter at @SideCarDC.

What do you think of SideCar? Does it sound like something you might use, or are there potential issues that may keep you away? Let us know in the comments below

Drivers: Uber Is Skimming Our Tips

 

Hailing a taxi in San Francisco used to be about as easy as panning for gold, but that was before the advent of Uber, the San-Francisco-based tech company that’s shaking up the taxi and town-car businesses in major cities. Tapping a button on my iPhone’s Uber app last Thursday produced a Yellow Cab at my downtown office in less than two minutes. “It is the best thing, my friend!” my beaming driver, Solomon Alemayhu, said of the GPS-based cab-hailing service. He likes the convenience factor so much, in fact, that he’s willing to overlook allegations that Uber is improperly skimming from its drivers’ tips.

According to the company website, Uber’s smartphone-based payment system automatically adds to the rider’s tab a $1 booking fee plus a 20 percent gratuity “for the driver.” But as Alemaythu and I drove through Chinatown, he told me that half of that gratuity actually goes to Uber. If that’s true—and Uber insists that it is not—then the company would be misleading consumers and breaking the law in some cities.

In Boston, for instance, Uber faces a class-action lawsuit over the tip-skimming allegation. Filed in late December on behalf of taxi driver David Lavitman, it accuses Uber of violating a state law stipulating that “no employer or other person” may take any portion of a worker’s gratuity. The lawsuit refers to a company document that explains how Uber and the driver divide the earnings: “We will automatically deposit the metered fare + 10% tip to your bank account each week,” it says. It cites the following example of how Uber would handle a $10 fare:

Uber Boston general manager Mike Pao says the document was just a promotional handout and doesn’t reflect Uber’s actual partnership agreement with drivers. “Since we launched here in Boston, the agreement with taxi driver partners has been that 10 percent of the metered fare goes to Uber as a marketing fee,” he insists. “Uber does not touch the tip.”

When I asked Pao for a copy of Uber’s partnership agreement, he referred me to an Uber “terms and conditions” page that lacks specific details about how Uber and drivers share profits. I repeated my request to Uber’s national PR guy, Kenneth Baer, but only received another statement from Pao: “Uber takes 10% of the metered fare as commission, plus the rider’s $1 booking fee, and all drivers are told this during the on-boarding process.”

The next day, Uber’s explanation of its tips policy seemed to have changed again [see below for comment from Uber]. “We don’t take our cut from the fare or the tip,” Uber’s head of policy, Corey Owens, told me when I ran into him outside Uber’s headquarters. “What happens is that the driver pays Uber a commission based on the services rendered.” He added that the commission amount varies widely depending on city and partner company and refused to cite any specific numbers.

Uber is just “backtracking off of what was very clearly the arrangement between it and the drivers from the beginning,” contends Lavitman’s attorney, Hillary Schwab.

To some drivers, the wording of the deal may not matter so much—the company’s “commission” would be the same whether it’s half of a 20 percent gratuity or a 10 percent surcharge on the fare. The distinction may matter more to passengers, however. In October, Uber rider Caren Ehret filed a class-action lawsuit in Chicago arguing that its practice of snapping up a portion of the “gratuity” charge had defrauded her and other passengers by making the “metered fare” appear misleadingly low. “She has a right for her gratuity to be remitted to the driver,” contends Ehret’s attorney, Hall Adams III.

These skirmishes highlight the types of challenges faced by startups aiming to buck an established industry with smartphone-based transportation apps. The San Francisco ride-sharing services Lyft and SideCar rely on drivers who lack taxi medallions; they bypass the regulated market by asking riders for “voluntary donations” in lieu of fares. Uber also features town-car services called Uber Black and Uberx (a lower-cost version that utilizes hybrids)—and it’s planning to enter the ride-sharing market too. All of these services appeal to consumers because they’re cheap, convenient, and allow people to rate their drivers, adding a layer of accountability to an industry with notoriously bad customer service.

Yet Uber’s honeymoon with its hometown may be coming to an end. With increasing competition, it recently cut its town car fares in San Francisco by 10 percent. Late last year, the California Public Utilities Commission threatened Uber with $20,000 fine for allegedly ignoring insurance regulations, then began drafting a new set of ride sharing rules that could give Uber the squeeze.

This past November, two long-time San Francisco cabbies filed a class-action lawsuit against Uber claiming that it breaks the law by dispatching limos and town cars that are not licensed as taxis. “Simply stated, Uber’s ‘partner’ drivers, who are operating without restriction, are taking passengers, and thus income, away from legally sanctioned taxicab drivers who are literally playing by the rules,” the suit says.

“My biggest beef with these guys is that this app is allowing them to break the law, and the Pubic Utilities Commission is allowing them to get away with it, because they have $50-million venture capitalists as backers,” says Barry Korengold, the president of the San Francisco Cab Drivers Association. “The cab drivers don’t have that kind of money to hire lawyers to fight this.”

Uber’s defenders write off the complaints as sour grapes from a monopolistic industry that loathes competition and accountability. But the grumbling is growing among Uber’s own partners; in recent weeks, dozens of Uber Black drivers have picketed the company’s San Francisco headquarters over what they consider unfair labor practices. A banner held up last Friday read, “Stop stealing our tips!”

Alemayhu, my taxi driver last Thursday, was trying to keep a positive attitude about the taxi-tech revolution. He said he hoped Yellow Cab’s own taxi-hailing app could eventually defeat Uber at its own game. “They can beat them on price, easy!” he said, snapping his fingers. “They just have to change their system.”

UPDATE: Uber representative Kenneth Baer says that Owens was only referring to Uber Black drivers, who, unlike Uber’s taxi driver partners, do not receive any tips through Uber’s payment system.

Josh Harkinson

Uber charges illegal tips

From: m.washingtonexaminer.com

Popular taxi and sedan service Uber is charging an automatic 20 percent tip on cab rides booked through its app or website.

The DC Taxicab Commission says that’s illegal — but so far the agency can’t do anything about it.
The District’s top taxi regulator, Ron Linton, told cabbies last month that Uber shouldn’t be doing that and that he had asked them to stop.
“We are surprised as we had been assured by their attorney that Uber would comply with the regulations to prohibit charging a mandatory gratuity,” Linton said in an email Friday.

Uber says it doesn’t think the automatic tip is illegal.

“We don’t believe that it is illegal to include a gratuity — which goes entirely to the driver,” said Uber General Manager Rachel Holt. “Uber customers know about the policy before they use our product since information about the tipping policy is on our blog, website and in the email we sent to all customers when we rolled out the product in DC.”

Two other apps for taxi booking, myTaxi and Taxi Magic, don’t charge automatic tips.

“We feel it’s really important to put that actual tipping power in the hands of the user,” said Taxi Magic spokesman Matt Carrington.

But another taxi app startup, HitchRides, does.

“We have found that consumers like the convenience of getting to their destination and simply getting out of the car and getting on with their business,” said the company’s founder, David Miller. “When you have to figure out a tip, it’s an extra step in the process.”

App developers said whether they’re allowed to charge a tip is still a gray area in D.C. law, despite the Taxicab Commission’s pronouncements.

The commission said it won’t be able to do anything about the tips until a rider complains about them, at which point the commission will seek a refund for the rider and fine the driver, Linton said.

Uber ran into trouble with D.C. law last year, when Linton said the company’s sedan service was illegal and performed a sting operation to slap a driver with a $1,000 fine. The D.C. Council since passed legislation allowing the town car service — which charges customers using a blend of taxi and limousine methods — and exempting it and similar sedan services from fare regulation.

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

Nissan Unveils Taxi of Tomorrow

  • By Auto123.com
  • Tuesday, April 03, 2012

 

Nissan debuts its 2014 Nissan NV200 Taxi — Manhattan’s Taxi of Tomorrow — to the press this week at the New York Auto Show, which opens to the public April 6.

After a two-year competitive bid process, the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission selected the NV200 as the exclusive taxi of New York City starting late in 2013. Nissan and the taxi commission, along with the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, the Design Trust for Public Space and Smart Design, collaborated on the vehicle.
Standard interior features include room for four passengers and their luggage, sliding doors with entry step and grab handles, transparent roof panel offering nifty city views, side windows that open, independently controlled rear air conditioning, Active Carbon Lined headliner to help minimize that taxi funk, overhead reading lights and floor lights, mobile charging station including 12-volt electrical outlet and two USB ports and a flat, no-hump passenger floor area. Stimulated leather upholstery is breathable, antimicrobial, durable, environmentally friendly and easy to clean.New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg called it the “safest, most comfortable and most convenient taxi the city has ever had.” With 600,000 New Yorkers jumping into cabs each day, it had better be.

The cab is powered by a 2.0L 4-cylinder engine and pre-wired for a taxi T-PEP system (for Taxicab Passenger Enhancements Project, which includes debit card/credit card function in the rear of the cab, passenger information monitor , and trip sheet automation.

It also features a low-annoyance horn complete with exterior lights that come on when the horn is being used.

The Taxi of Tomorrow will cost $29,700 US. There are currently 13,000 taxis on New York roads, together logging 800 million kilometres a year.

New Orleans Taxi Moratorium is Illegal, Some Say

From: The Times-Picayune
  • Michelle Krupa
  • Posted:  04/02/2012 7:00 AM

 
About a year ago, a key piece of Joseph Lange Jr.’s business skidded to a halt. A lender who for more than 40 years has offered financing to cab drivers and owners — using their city-issued taxi permits as collateral — Lange has been unable to open new loans or close settled debts since Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration last spring imposed a moratorium on the transfer of taxi permits.

Most frustrating, Lange said, has been his inability to help older drivers who want to sell their permits and retire. Cabbies long have treated the permits, which before the moratorium were worth a reported $65,000 on the city-regulated secondary market, as long-term investments that are relatively easy to liquidate.

“This moratorium has been an absolute disaster,” Lange said. “We’ve done hundreds and hundreds of transfers over the years, and over the course of the past year, they’ve made it almost impossible to just conduct business.”

A Landrieu spokesman last week said the stoppage aims to give the administration a chance “to better assess and audit” records of the city’s 1,600 for-hire vehicle permits, known as certificates of public necessity and convenience, or CPNCs.

It started soon after a former president of United Cabs Inc., the city’s largest taxi company, signed a sworn affidavit saying a Ground Transportation Bureau employee, Kewana Fortune, regularly accepted tips from him.

Fortune, who processed permit transfers and other taxi paperwork, resigned in June.

Many in the taxi industry, however, claim the moratorium flies in the face of city law. And some suspect the city’s real goal is to prevent transfers until the City Council passes legislation — now on the table — that would allow it to take a much larger cut of transfer fees.

Critics have complained in the past that the city takes too little money from permit transaction, given the assets’ enormous value.

During a heated City Council hearing last week, a local lawyer who represents 240 cabbies argued that current ordinances give the administration no choice but to grant transfers to parties who file the necessary paperwork and pay a fee of $150 or $350, depending on how many times the permit has changed hands.

The city code states that “the CPNC shall be transferred,” provided the requirements are met.

“This moratorium that’s been in effect for a year by the administration — unilaterally, without City Council approval — is unlawful,” attorney Daniel Davillier said.

Asked what steps the mayor took to impose the stoppage, Berni said transfers “were administratively halted.” He would not elaborate.

Davillier speculated that the moratorium was engineered to allow Landrieu to push through the council a slate of 32 changes to taxi policy, including a six-fold increase in the fee City Hall collects for permits transfers. The measure would boost the transfer fee to $2,000 or 20 percent of a permit’s negotiated sale price, whichever is greater.

“You haven’t allowed transfers for the last year in direct violation of the existing ordinances in the city, and now you want to charge a 20 percent fee for any transfers once they’re allowed,” Davillier said. “It almost looks like there’s some intent for the city to take money from these folks that own these.”

Berni declined to address the claim directly.

“The city is now engaged in reforming the entire ground transportation industry, including the transfer process,” he said via email. “We plan to allow transfers to resume in the coming months.”

City Hall last year processed just 21 CPNC transfers, compared with 148 in 2010, and 159 the previous year, Berni said. None have been completed in 2012.

The city in 2009 and 2010 collected an average of between $23,100 and $53,900 per year from CPNC transfers. Under the proposed fee structure, the same volume of business would net City Hall at least $308,000 annually.

Michael Tifft, a former deputy city attorney and director of the council’s utilities regulatory office, agreed with Davillier that because the moratorium wasn’t authorized by the City Council, “then I think these people are being messed around with.”

Lange said he hopes the moratorium is lifted soon so he can resume making loans to fledgling drivers and owners, who often use the money to pay off their first cab.

“We’ve helped hundreds and hundreds of people become individual business owners over the years,” he said, “and that’s what I want to keep doing.”

Though the council could take up the package of draft ordinances as soon as Thursday, Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer, the proposals’ sponsor, said at the close of the committee meeting that she may delay the votes to give the parties more time to review them.

Other proposed changes include mandates that cabs have on-board credit card machines, global-positioning equipment and surveillance cameras, and that taxis more than 10 years old be banned, with the maximum age dropping to seven years in 2014.

Landrieu has said the changes are needed to improve a critical component of tourists’ and business travelers’ experience in New Orleans. City officials say the changes would cost about $2,000 per vehicle, but drivers and owners say the expenses would be closer to $20,000.

•••••••

Michelle Krupa can be reached at mkrupa@timespicayune.com or 504.826.3312.

Jamming in a Taxi

From the: Cape Argus

  • April 2, 2012
  • Nontando Mposo, STAFF REPORTER

 
SPOTTED your favourite band riding around the city in a minibus taxi lately and wondered if they have fallen on hard times?

Don’t fret, they are probably shooting a music video with TaxiJam.

“(It is) unedited, raw and unplugged music videos to showcase South African music talent at its best,” said TaxiJam founder and producer Simon Wall.

A TaxiJam entails filming and recording bands playing inside a minibus taxi.

Wall said he and his partner, cousin Richard, were inspired by London’s Black Cab Sessions, where music videos are recorded in the back of a black cab as it makes its way through London.

TaxiJam was formed two years ago and Wall, 35, describes it as a labour of love and a hobby.

“Although I don’t play any musical instrument, I have always been involved in music.

“We fell in love with the UK’s Black Cab Sessions idea and thought it was a good way to get into the South African music scene,” said Wall, who is also a director at outdoor advertising agency Tractor Group.

Since its inception, TaxiJam has produced more than 50 “intimate” music videos for Freshlyground, Johnny Clegg, Prime Circle, aKing, Jack Parow, 340ml and Die Antwoord.

“These days it’s expensive for artists to shoot and produce their own music videos. TaxiJam is a quick and cheap way for them to get immediate exposure. We do everything ourselves and fund it out of our own pockets.”

Last February, Die Antwoord’s TaxiJam video got 100 000 hits the first day it was posted on taxijam.tv

It has since been watched about five million times.

“It was before they were famous. I was surprised the video went viral that quickly. They (Die Antwood) are now huge here and abroad, and I am still living in Gardens,” he joked.

TaxiJam was nominated in the Men’s Health Men Of The Year 2010 awards for promoting SA musicians.

“A video is quick to shoot; it takes about half an hour to five minutes of driving around Kloof Street.

“We use very little equipment… to bring out the bands’ raw, acoustic sounds without the bells and whistles of stage lights and special effects.”

Wall said they used about 20 taxis regularly.

“It depends on the kind of bands we are shooting for; sometimes we need a very silent taxi that doesn’t sound like the engine is exploding.”

For a spontaneous performance, Wall said they sometimes filmed a video with a taxi full of unsuspecting passengers on their way home, like the video they did for Quite a White Ou, a local white guy who sings in Xhosa.

“The expression on the people’s faces was priceless and real.”

Their latest projects include a cable car jam video that they did for Freshlyground shot in Table Mountain’s cable car.

TaxiJam will also be producing a pilot music talent search documentary, where they will be travelling around SA in a taxi looking for undiscovered talent.

“We want to grow the TaxiJam brand into an African thing, where we will travel around Africa looking and showcasing talented musicians,” he said.

l Watch the videos at taxijam.tv

nontando.mposo@inl.co.za

Citing High Costs, 2 Boston Cab Drivers File Suit

From: 90.9 WBUR – NPR Radio

  • BY BEENISH AHMED
  • Mar 21, 2012, 4:02 AM

 
BOSTON — Many Bostonians grumble about the high cost of taxi rides in this city. But as it turns out, cabbies are grumbling too — about the high costs of driving cabs. Two shift drivers are so fed up with the fees they pay to rent taxis from cab companies that they’ve filed a class-action lawsuit to win back the fees and get wage guarantees.

Pierre Douchemin, 55, is a lead plaintiff in the case. He has a graying beard and wears his hair tucked into what looks like a Rasta cap. Douchemin is from Haiti and was surprised when he found out how hard it is to make a living as a Boston cabbie. He says his situation is so bad that he feels like an indentured servant.

Pierre Duchemin is a lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit filed against the City of Boston and three area cab companies. (Beenish Ahmed for WBUR)

“The money you earn yesterday is going to pay for the cab today,” Douchemin says.

Taxi drivers pay for their own gas, insurance and tolls if they aren’t carrying a passenger. But that isn’t all.

A city-issued medallion is required to operate a cab in Boston, and it isn’t cheap. The price of a medallion can run up to a half-million dollars at auction. Companies that own medallions ask drivers to share that cost through a daily fee. Altogether, shift drivers can pay up to $150 out of what they take home every day.

“Essentially, cab drivers pay to work,” says Shannon Liss-Riordan, the attorney representing Douchemin and his fellow lead plaintiff, Bernard Sabago. Liss-Riordan doesn’t think shift drivers’ arrangement with cab companies is legal.

Earlier this month, her clients filed the lawsuit to be seen not as independent contractors but as employees. That way, they’d be guaranteed at least the minimum wage.

“They perform the core operation that these businesses are in existence to provide,” Liss-Riordan says. “And so for that reason alone, under Massachusetts law, the cab drivers are employees of the cab companies.”

But before the case is heard, she will have to certify that all shift drivers in Boston constitute a class. Liss-Riordan argues that the city dictates much of what cabbies do, right down to what they wear. That’s why she doesn’t think gaining class certification will be a problem.

Once certified, the class would sue the City of Boston, along with the Independent Operators Association, Boston Cab Dispatch and USA Taxi Association — which all operate within Boston city limits.

No one from the city or those three companies agreed to speak to WBUR for this story.

But cab company owner John Ford did. He operates Top Cab/City Cab out of Revere. He says the case is ironic because cab drivers used to be employees until they made a push to become independent contractors in the 1970s. Ford was one of them.

“I couldn’t wait to become an independent contractor,” he says, “because I didn’t want to give the company half of what I brought in.”

Since then, Ford has done just about every job in the industry, from painting cabs to dispatching them. He doesn’t think the plaintiffs’ complaints against companies are valid.

“No one’s going to go out there and work 60 hours for zero,” Ford says. “These two gentlemen who say they make no money, maybe they should work harder.”

But some drivers say working harder won’t change the fact that the economy is killing business. One cabbie told me he’s been driving for 20 years and has never seen such a slump.

But there is some hope. Cab drivers have sought steadier pay through employee status in dozens of cases across the country — and won.

In Crackdown on Unlicensed Taxis, City Runs Out of Room

From: New York Times
By CHRISTINE HAUGHNEY
Published: March 20, 2012
 
In a bid to clear the streets of unlicensed taxis, dozens of newly hired officers at the Taxi and Limousine Commission have, in recent weeks, flagged down, fined and seized so many cars that New York City has run out of space to keep them.

With the city’s violation tow pounds at or near capacity, the commission has resorted to holding the seized vehicles in a parking lot at its safety and emissions center in Woodside, Queens, where as many as 500 taxis are inspected every day.

Finding space has become such a challenge that the commission plans to issue a request for proposals for parking lots next week; in some cases, because of the lack of space, the commission has not been able to tow away as many unlicensed taxis as it would like.

“We would seize more,” said David S. Yassky, chairman of the Taxi and Limousine Commission, referring to its enforcement officers. “Day to day, when they are out doing their deployments, their instructions for the mission depend on how much space they have.”

On Monday morning, Mr. Yassky strolled through the parking lot in Woodside, which was filled with 69 unlicensed Lincoln Town Cars, stretch Hummers and limousines that officials had picked up since Friday. Ray Scanlon, a deputy commissioner who runs inspections and the uniformed services bureau, said 15 cars were picked up at Kennedy and La Guardia Airports on Friday. More unlicensed cars were seized near clubs in Manhattan, in the meatpacking district and in the theater district on Saturday.

On Sunday, officers seized 20 more cars in Queens from drivers who were not licensed by the Taxi and Limousine Commission and were illegally picking up passengers at shopping malls.

But the city had space for only four vehicles at its tow pounds over the weekend – so the commission squeezed the remaining cars into the parking lot in Woodside, where yellow taxis lined up on Monday morning for quarterly inspections.

Mr. Scanlon said he expected most of the drivers to pay their fines and retrieve their cars as soon as they could. He said he hoped the packed lot in Woodside would clear out soon, to accommodate all the taxis coming in for inspection.

“These cars, more than likely, will be retrieved by Tuesday afternoon,” Mr. Scanlon said.

Allan J. Fromberg, a spokesman for the Taxi and Limousine Commission, said, “We’ve never had a car sitting for weeks or months in the yard.”

The space problems started late last year, when the commission began doubling the size of its 100-person force in anticipation of the enforcement effort in the boroughs outside Manhattan that are served by livery cabs, which are not allowed to pick up street hails. In the past six months, the commission has hired 61 officers, 40 of whom are already in the field picking up illegal vehicles. By the end of the year, the commission hopes to have hired 100 new officers.

Avik Kabessa, a member of the board at the Livery Roundtable, a group representing livery drivers and chauffeurs, and a partner in Carmel Car and Limousine Service, said he remained skeptical about the effort. He said he was afraid that the commission would use the new officers and any added parking spaces to prey on livery drivers picking up unauthorized fares, rather than drivers who are not licensed at all.

“We often welcome more enforcement,” Mr. Kabessa said. “But

In Crackdown on Unlicensed Taxis, City Runs Out of Room

Yellow taxis lined up for inspections on Monday at a safety center in Queens, where the lot had been filled with seized cabs.

unfortunately, instead of going after those who are truly illegal, they are going after those who have the Taxi and Limousine Commission plates. Usually they’re going after the low-hanging fruit like the livery drivers.”

Mr. Yassky said he hoped that the additional enforcement measures would keep more riders safe from all types of unlicensed drivers.

“The job will still be enormous,” he said. “But at that point, it will be manageable.”

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