7 questions (and answers) about Uber that you need to know

San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor asked City Manager Sheryl Sculley to develop a framework to bring ride-hailing companies back for a "pilot period."

UBER sorry

Here's a refresher:

1) Is it correct to call Uber and Lyft ride-sharing companies?

No, according to the AP Stylebook.  “Ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft let people use smartphone apps to book and pay for a private car service, or in some cases, a taxi. They may  be called ride-booking services. Do not use ride-sharing,” says AP, which governs journalism style.

Why? Because, as this article in Grist points out, Lyft and Uber are not sharing. They charge money.  

2) Do Uber’s driver background checks catch bad guys?

Not always, according to police. After an Uber driver was charged with raping a passenger in Houston, police there found the driver had earlier spent 14 years in prison on drug charges, yet he passed Uber’s background check, according to this article in the Houston Chronicle. For more on the issue check out this article on CNET

Houston and San Antonio are among the few cities who require Uber and Lyft drivers - along with taxi drivers, pedicab drivers, architects and teachers - to get 10-fingerprint FBI background checks. Not only does that catch more crooks, but the city gets notified of any new criminal charges as well - which the ride hailing company’s checks do not do.

Uber’s checks are based on Social Security numbers, which may explain why Houston police found multiple charges and identity theives among drivers who passed Uber’s screening.

A Houston fingerprint check on one driver who passed the Uber background screening found "24 alias names, 5 listed birth dates, 10 listed Social Security numbers, and an active warrant for arrest," according to a report Houston presented to the Texas Legislature last spring and detailed  in this Houston Chronicle article.

Overall, according to the article, police checks found charges against drivers including “indecent exposure, DWI, possession of a controlled substance, prostitution, fraud, battery, assault, robbery, aggravated robbery, possession of marijuana, theft, sale of alcohol to a minor, traffic of counterfeit goods, trademark counterfeit, possession of narcotics, and driving with a suspended license."

3) Why did Uber leave San Antonio?

Uber does not dispute that after its executives helped rewrite San Antonio city code to be friendlier, the company did an about-face and rejected the 10-fingerprint FBI background check, which it had agreed to just days before. Click here for the full story.

4) What’s the difference between surge-pricing and price-gouging?

Uber says surge-pricing is when the company automatically raises prices in response to peaks in demand. Uber says it does so to encourage more drivers to go online.

Uber has been roundly criticized for increasing prices as much as 800 to 1,000 percent on New Year’s Eve, and, according to this article, had to issue apologies and refunds after it increased prices by 400 percent in Sydney, Australia at a hostage situation.

The Attorney General of New York says there’s not a lot of difference between surge-pricing and price-gouging, which is illegal there and in other states including Illinois, Louisiana, California and New Jersey.  This article says a New York lawmaker proposed a new bill to ban companies from gouging.

This article by a San Diego State University law professor says it may or may not be price-gouging, depending on what consumers’ other options are.

In Texas, price-gouging is only illegal after a disaster has been declared by the governor.
"The Texas Deceptive Trade Practices-Consumer Protection Act provides that it is a false, misleading or deceptive act or practice to take advantage of a disaster declared by the Governor by: Selling or leasing fuel, food, medicine or another necessity at an exorbitant or excessive price; or Demanding an exorbitant or excessive price in connection with the sale or lease of fuel, food, medicine or another necessity."

5) Taxis in San Antonio are required to serve the entire community and not “redline” or discriminate against communities of color, and poor or marginalized communities. Does that rule apply to Uber and Lyft?

San Antonio does not require ride-hailing companies to prove that they serve the entire community and that they don’t redline or discriminate as it does with taxis.

Uber has a posted this non-discrimination policy on its website.  In this article in the Dallas Morning News, a Lyft executive speaks in response to the redlining issue.

Critics have complained about ride-hailing companies redlining in other cities, such as Minneapolis, as this article explains, and Dallas, as this article explains.

This data-driven article by a University of Maryland professor suggests that Uber’s surge-pricing results in higher prices and better service for some neighborhoods and worse service and quality for others. 

6) Taxis are required to serve handicapped customers, so will Uber and Lyft be required to provide service to disabled customers under Americans With Disabilities Act?

The new rules governing ride-hailing companies in San Antonio do not mention ADA requirements.

Houston requires that “three percent of the entire vehicle-for-hire fleet be composed of wheelchair accessible vehicles.

Austin requires ride-hailing companies to give the city quarterly reports on "Outreach events to community organizations with ADA-compliant vehicles."

According to this article in the Daily Beast, Uber attorneys claim the ADA does not apply to the company because it is a technology company, not a taxi service.

In Austin, Uber is being sued by a disabled person who said he was refused service by an Uber driver.

7) Are Uber and Lyft drivers employees? Do they get paid minimum wage or benefits?

Depends on who you ask. This New York Times article explains a recent California court ruling that Uber is an employer. The ruling came after a woman driver claimed that unless the company compensated her for her expenses, she would have been working for less than minimum wage.

Uber’s lawyers consistently claim Uber is a technology platform and not an employer.