Hundreds of Uber drivers gathered outside of the Taxi & Limousine Commission headquarters this morning, to protest TLC-proposed rules that would more-strictly regulate for-hire-vehicles (FHVs) that rely on apps to pick up and drop off customers.
Uber is especially concerned about a regulation that would impact an Uber driver's ability to cancel a ride, once it has been scheduled through the App.
Here's the exact language from the TLC's proposal, which Uber and TLC have interpreted very differently:
Must Not Refuse Passengers.
A Driver who has been dispatched must not refuse, by words, gestures,
cancellation of such dispatch, or any other means to provide transportation to a
person who has prearranged the trip with a destination within the City of New
York, the counties of Westchester or Nassau or Newark Airport.
In notes presented to the TLC, Uber bemoans the proposed rule, insisting that when a driver accepts a rider, and then gets caught in horrible traffic on the way to pick her up, "The appropriate thing for the driver to do is cancel the ride request so that the passenger can be matched with another driver who is in a better position to fulfill the request."
Uber goes on to point out that riders often request a cancelation, because the wait time is too long, or the rider decided to walk, or take the bus or train.
Lilian Rivas, an Uber driver from Harlem, attended today's rally. She told us, "They [the TLC] want to take away our right to cancel a trip, even if a customer asks for the cancelation. This upsets us in many ways. For example, if I already drove 20 minutes to get to the customer, and the customer doesn't show up, what am I going to do? Just sit there for an hour?" She added, "If I'm sitting there waiting for the customer to show up, I can't take another call until I cancel."
When asked how often she cancels a ride, Rivas estimated, "Maybe one out of 100."
According to an Uber spokeswoman, the Uber app won't let drivers move on to their next pickup until a ride is canceled. Therefore, this proposed rule would "make it much more difficult to go through the day."
When asked about how the new regulation, TLC spokesman Allan Fromberg explained that, "Unfortunately, we've seen some drivers using cancellations to 'ditch' a waiting passenger for what they believe would be a more lucrative trip."
He added, "These rules in no way disallow cancellations, they simply reinforce the prohibition of service refusal for the various discriminatory reasons they exist."
In a fiery statement issued this afternoon, the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade accused Uber of twisting the TLC's language to suit its own devices. "Uber took its propaganda road show to new heights when it duped dozens of drivers... into believing that these rules were apocalyptic." Also, "Shame on them."
Today's hearing on proposed TLC rule adjustments also touched on a proposal that would defer all Uber complaints to 311, rather than letting Uber handle all customer service issues internally. Another proposal would prevent Uber drivers from loitering outside transportation hubs like La Guardia and Port Authority, while other VFH cars wait their turn in a designated line.
A vote on all of the proposed changes is scheduled for June 18th. If approved, they'll go into effect by mid-Summer.