New California law could give free rides to those too drunk to drive

It’s an all-too-familiar scene in Sacramento. A group of friends heads to midtown for a night of partying and drinking, but one friend has to miss out on the fun and stay sober to be the designated driver.

A new law that takes effect Jan. 1 may not only let everyone join in on the fun, but it’ll also mean more money for the bubbly.

Under Assembly Bill 711, alcohol manufacturers and licensed sellers can offer free or discounted rides to transport drinkers home safely through ride-sharing services, taxicabs or other ride providers.

Vouchers or codes can be given to alcohol sellers or directly to consumers, but cannot be offered as incentives to buy a company’s product. Current law restricts alcohol licensees from offering discounts of anything more than inconsequential value to consumers, though liquor and wine manufacturers have been temporarily allowed to pay for rides for people attending private, invitation-only events. …

Click here to read the full story from the Sacramento Bee

Unintended Consequences of Uber Boom

There’s been a lot of chatter in California these days about Uber, Lyft and so-called “transportation network companies,” or TNCs – and why not?  After all, these evolving services were “born” in the Golden State, which has earned renown as a beacon and world leader of innovation and technology. Consumers, the media and many politicians have focused their attention on this popular phenomenon as it moves as rapidly as its driver-owned fleet.

UberBut, looking closer at the issue, this baby boomer can’t help but cite a few choice words from a Crosby, Stills and Nash hit: “Traveling twice the speed of sound, it’s easy to get burned.”  What many leaders are now rightly taking into consideration are the unintended consequences of these TNCs – a safe and competitive landscape for consumers, the marketplace and our highways.

Thankfully, many leaders in the State Capitol are realizing that we need to know more about the Ubers of the world – what they do, how they operate, how they are regulated, and what this means for the future. In recent weeks, a joint legislative hearing was convened to focus on just that, and the facts speak for themselves. There was general unanimity that these new technologies are a good thing if done right, but too many uncertainties remain. Will this new service lead to less traffic or more? Does it exclude certain California consumers while favoring others? What are the views and perspectives of both driver and passenger? How seamless is the background check process for all drivers? Many unknowns persist all-around. In fact, the lobbyist for one TNC wasn’t even aware of the rough number of cars they have on the highway.

Much of the emphasis during this hearing and otherwise has been on the fallout this new “app” service has had on other people-moving services, notably taxis and limousines, but there has been little, if any, public discussion about its impact on another major contributor to jobs, the economy and our communities: California’s same-day delivery industry.

These are the mostly mom-and-pop family businesses that deliver vital goods and products like blood, medical supplies, rare construction parts and legal documents to local customer’s door-to-door, business-to-business, in real time. To be clear, the owners of these businesses are not “anti-TNC”, and they realize they must keep up with the times to be competitive. As times change, so must they and their business models to court the customer with best-in-class pricing, cutting-edge technologies and quality customer service. And the majority of these companies are, in fact, doing just that.

We believe in a free and competitive marketplace. That’s not our concern. What is problematic is that the delivery industry, many that have been in existence for 20, 30, 40 years or more and operating on razor-thin margins, are required to comply with specific motorist regulations and requirements while these TNCs are not being subjected to the same level of enforcement and accountability.

The current law requires that delivery companies must possess a Motor Carrier Permit through the DMV to move goods for hire. TNCs are not being held to the same standard and are, in fact, moving products from Point A to Point B with no permit and ignoring the law.

Delivery companies must obtain adequate insurance to ensure that the general public is protected. TNCs aren’t held to that same standard. Not only is this unfair, it puts the lives of millions in our communities at risk.

As our legislative leaders debrief from this recent hearing and consider next steps, we urge them to consider policy that will bring accountability and safety for all of us:

  • A better-defined Motor Carrier Permit that spells out guidelines for transporting both goods and people
  • Reasonable insurance requirements for drivers and companies in the transportation community
  • Improved accountability and uniformity for background checks and fingerprinting for all related personnel to maximize safety for consumers, employees and others on the highways and roads
  • And better clarification and simplification of the definition of “independent contractor” versus “employee”.

The goal here is to identify changes and a proposal that all motorist stakeholders – delivery companies, TNCs, taxi services, livery services and others – have had a role in shaping and support.

Our small business members believe in running the race – after all, they do it every day when they open the doors of their business – but our leaders in Sacramento need to foster an environment that allows all of us to compete on a level – and safe – playing field.

Executive Director, California Delivery Association.

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

“Sharing” Economy Puts Democrats Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Sharing.

It sounds so simple, but as an economic trend, sharing is a divisive issue for Democrats.

Tension over the so-called “sharing economy” has been on full display in Sacramento, with Democrats who control the Legislature facing mounting pressure. On one side are trendy tech ventures that are gearing up their political lobbies. On the other: Democrats’ traditional allies in organized labor, who remain highly influential.

California-based companies that allow people to make money by “sharing” their homes and cars have hit the mainstream. Uber, the smartphone-based ride-hailing service, operates in 300 cities globally. And Airbnb, a website that allows homeowners to rent a room to vacationers, now has 55 million users around the world.

The expansion has sparked predictable pushback from the traditional providers of rides and rooms: the taxi and hotel industries. Now union leaders are trying to convince Democrats that the trend in economic “sharing” represents a fundamental shift that will harm workers.

“Is this the future of our economy, where you have no security of getting a regular paycheck, no security… if something happened to you on the job?” said Angie Wei, a lobbyist for the California Labor Federation.

Her group represents several unions, including those for hotel workers and cab drivers. These old-school industries have longtime ties to many Democrats in the Legislature today. Taxi companies, for example, routinely give political donations in local races, leading to relationships with politicians who advance from city councils to seats in Sacramento. Hotel worker unions are big donors in legislative races, with one group spending $1.2 million in California during the last election cycle.

uberDespite the clout, Wei worries “we’re losing on this issue. … Uber has romanced legislators [into thinking] that they are a new, innovative company and that if you oppose Uber or their model, you’re opposing innovation.”

The Internet-based companies are relative newcomers when it comes to political influence in Sacramento. But they’re showing they can play the game:

  • Ride-sharing company Lyft began making political contributions in California last year, including $15,000 to Gov. Jerry Brown’s ballot measure committee and $4,100 to Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles. Uber spent nearly $200,000 on lobbyists in Sacramento so far this year – more than Walmart and Bank of America, as the Los Angeles Times has noted.
  • Airbnb recently hired Chris Lehane, a well-known Democratic political consultant who worked in the Clinton White House. The company also retained its first Sacramento lobbyist this year.
  • A national trade group called the Internet Association opened a Sacramento office for the first time last year. It has hosted numerous events for California lawmakers, including a $16,000 reception at the state Democratic convention in Anaheim last spring.

Robert Callahan, the association’s lobbyist, said lawmakers’ familiarity with internet-based brands has helped the new industry break in.

“Legislators are waking up and searching Twitter and going on Instagram and posting on Facebook and sending Gmail. They have a personal attachment with our companies,” he said. “That helps us when we go in and say, ‘We have an issue we think you should resolve.’”

A recent example was a bill that would allow state employees to be reimbursed for using companies like Uber and Airbnb when they travel for work. The bill sparked a heated debate between Democrats on the Senate floor last week.

“Why does this industry deserve a special status?” said Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, who worked in his brothers’ taxi business for 15 years before he was elected. “Why do they deserve protection from the Legislature?”

The bill, AB229, is now on the governor’s desk after it passed the Senate with the support of all Republicans and less than half of the Democrats.

The new companies don’t always get their way, though. Two bills backed by Uber stalled in the Senate committee chaired by Hueso. His spokeswoman said he plans to hold a hearing this fall to deal with ride-sharing issues more comprehensively.

On the home-sharing front, Airbnb fought back legislation that sought to make it easier for cities to collect taxes on vacation rentals made through web-based services.

Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, the bill’s author, said the trend has been a burden on his wine country community, with wild parties and public drunkenness reported at houses booked through the sites. Still, the measure stalled in a committee. McGuire said he will try again next year.

Airbnb’s vast user network is an obstacle he’ll have to confront. Lehane said its customers flooded the statehouse this spring with more than 769,000 emails asking lawmakers to reject McGuire’s bill.

“When people find out about issues, they really mobilize,” Lehane said. “This is a company that is, at some level, redefining capitalism.”

Originally published by CALmatters.org

Long Beach allows taxis to lower fares as they compete with Uber, Lyft

As reported by the L.A. Times:

Long Beach officials are pursuing a new strategy to resolve the growing rift between taxi drivers and ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft, becoming the nation’s first large city to relax restrictions on cabs, rather than increase regulation of their new competitors.

Removing requirements that taxi drivers say have put them at a competitive disadvantage, the City Council voted Tuesday to allow its exclusive cab franchise to rebrand itself, update the appearance of its fleet and offer variable, discounted fares, free rides and other price promotions to lure customers.

In addition to a new name (Yellow Long Beach) and a new Uber-like app (Ride Yellow), Long Beach Yellow Cab will repaint its traditional mustard-colored taxis a more vivid lemon. …

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