Monthly Archives:' January 2017

The End of an Icon?

From the lovable East Coast cabbies featured on countless movies and TV shows, to the vastly more sinister Travis Bickle, played by Robert DeNiro in 1976’s “Taxi Driver,” New York cabs and their drivers are nothing short of iconic. Therefore, it’s a bit off-putting to realize that, as reported by Curbed New York, Uber and Lyft vehicles are already seriously outnumbering the classic yellow cab in the Big Apple.

End of an era?

Of course, this doesn’t mean that the New York cab will be going away anytime soon. The sheer ubiquity of cabs in NYC makes them far more accessible than they would be in other cities. After all, the ridesharing services have an enormous advantage over cabs in a sprawling city like Los Angeles because, outside of certain parts of Hollywood and Downtown, you could spend hours on a typical street corner waiting for an available cab to drive by. Indeed, even calling a cab for a ride to the airport can be something of crap shoot if you’re expecting it to arrive on time. Ridesharing services in L.A. are not only cheaper than cabs, they are more dependable.

In many parts of Manhattan, however, all one has to do is hold up a hand and a cab will dutifully pull up. Indeed, New Yorkers are probably more comfortable taking cabs than people from any other city.  Curbed notes that, despite being outnumbered, New York taxis are still taking more daily trips than ridesharing vehicles – at least for the moment.

For the time being, at least, then, it seems that cabs and Uber/Lyft vehicles will be sharing the streets of New York City. During that time, it will be interesting to compare the rates of personal injuries between the two kinds of vehicles, as well as the impacts of the difference between the amount of insurance held by cab drivers versus the much larger levels of coverage that Uber and Lyft insist on. Right now, it seems to us as the ridesharing services are winning, in terms of popularity if not public safety. However, time will only tell if the New York cab companies might find a way to reassert their historic dominance.  Personal injury matters could be a factor.

The Future is (Almost) Now

With all the concern about whether or not Lyft and Uber are meeting the security and safety requirements of various cities, the ridesharing giants, and their drivers, may be facing a more serious problem in the relatively near future. According to an article on Tech Times, a new patent may mean that Google’s long-discussed plans to launch a network of autonomous ridesharing cars may be started sooner rather than later.

The future is now

To those of a certain age, this will feel like science fiction, though to the thousands of ridesharing drivers and cabdrivers it might seem more like a horror movie since they could easily become another category of worker essentially being replaced by robots. Even so, it may be some time until autonomous cars are able to wholly replace drivers. For one thing, it appears likely that the autonomous cars will not be able to go just anywhere and could be blocked by construction zones – something we see plenty of in busy urban areas. At the same time, Tech Times writes that Google should be able to overcome these issues by establishing specialized pick-up areas.

Even so, just as certain issues have developed around human-based ridesharing, some problems may also likely emerge around driverless cars. One issue that hasn’t been mentioned is that prospective passengers might simply decide they neither like nor trust them. Some might feel have sympathies with the threatened livelihoods of drivers, others might simply have an innate fear of cars that seem to have no drivers. Of course, if accidents do start to occur with these Google rideshares, then those latter fears will be bolstered. Of course, very low prices could be used as a carrot to try and overcome these concerns.

In any case, it will be very likely that Google cars will be covered by the same kind of high insurance coverage for liability that Uber and Lyft currently carry. Since robots don’t make errors the way people do, it’s likely that the Google cars will be safer than ordinary cars. Nevertheless, accidents really do happen, whether or not people are actually driving both vehicles.

Something for Uber and Lyft Customers to Keep in Mind

A recent USA Today article offers some eye-opening information for both prospective ridesharing drivers and their customers. It turn out that you don’t actually need to own an Uber or Lyft-worthy car in order to drive for one of the big outfits, though that’s still probably the most common path. There are numerous other options, including a partnership between Lyft and manufacturing giant General Motors that leases cars to drivers, but which offers them the lease for free once they hit more than 75 rides in a week. Hertz and Enterprise Rent-a-Car also offer somewhat similar leasing options. Uber has a short term leasing program, and a peer-to-peer service called Hyrecar that allows ridesharing drivers to arrange their own rentals with ordinary vehicle owners.

Something for Uber and Lyft Customers to Keep in Mind

This may be pretty good news for people who would like to make money by driving for a ridesharing company but who may not own a car, or may not own one that’s up to the standards most Uber and Lyft customers expect. On the other hand, from a point of view of those of us concerned about personal injury cases, there may be some concerns. We’re not sure how significant they are, but they’re at least worth mentioning.

Specifically, with these short term leasing options, it’s possible that some ridesharing drivers might not be fully knowledgeable about all aspects of their vehicles. After all, once you’ve owned a car for a week or two, you tend to know it pretty well, but there’s a period of adjustment when you may not fully understand all the features. Also, as any of us who’ve rented a car knows, the first hour or so of driving can sometimes be a bit stressful as we realize that we don’t really understand the way the car works as well as we might have assumed. If you’ve ever found yourself suddenly realizing you can’t figure out how to turn on the headlights on your new rental, you’ll know what we’re talking about!

That means, we think, there’s obviously some potential for a hazard posed by momentary confusion or distraction that could increase the chances of an injury. At least, as we keep mentioning, Uber and Lyft carry a great deal of liability as well as uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. This may be one more reason why that’s probably a good thing.

The Power of Information

Power of information - Uber article

Ridesharing giant Uber is trying to keep some information to itself, and that apparently isn’t pleasing the office of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. According to an article on Bloomberg Technology, the issue is data about the address and times of drop-offs. The city is arguing that it needs the information to prevent drivers from getting dangerously tired and also because of citywide limits of 60 hours per week of driving time per driver.

Uber is arguing that sharing this information would constitute an invasion of privacy and that the city had previously accidentally shared data about cab rides. To underline the matter, the service tried to persuade their New York area customers to take to Twitter to criticize the mayor’s stance. The writer of the article points out, however, that Uber might be living in a proverbial glass house when it comes to matter of privacy, as it been under some fire for applications that seek to track customers’ movements after rides have ended. The writer notes that there have been charges of improper use of information from former employees as well.

As personal injury specialists, we obviously view these matters through the prism of public safety. Driver fatigue is a serious problem whether someone is driving for Uber, Lyft, a private truck or cab company or, of course, as an ordinary motorist. It seems understandable to us that a city might want to regulate the number of hours that drivers are working for the sake of public safety.

Of course, Uber and Lyft likely believe that they are already taking sufficient precautions to prevent undue driver fatigue. They are also certainly fully aware of the money they are spending to provide their drivers with roughly $1 million in insurance coverage for liability and uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. From the point of view of the rest of us, that might be good to know after we’ve been injured but, of course, we’d all prefer not to be injured because of driver fatigue in the first place!