Vail Daily column: Why Uber isn’t a taxi service
Uber, that innovative transportation company, is not a taxi service. Neither is Lyft or whatever of their brethren may be out there prowling our streets.
“Hmmm,” you say, “Why not? Doesn’t Uber pick me up the way a taxi does, and drop me off, and charge a fare for taking me where I want my sloshed or unsloshed self to go?”
Well… precisely. But that doesn’t make it a taxi service.
As self-evident as it may seem, let’s first define a “taxi.” Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines a “taxi” as “a car that carries passengers to a place for an amount of money that is based on the distance traveled.”
“Ah, OK. But wait. … Isn’t that what Uber?
Yeah, I know but … you’re gonna have to trust me on this one. It’s different and here’s why. Unlike a taxi service, Uber is a Transportation Network Company.
In 2014, the Colorado legislature enacted the Transportation Network Company Act. Colorado thus became the first state in the nation to regulate companies such as Uber. The act vested authority over transportation network companies and drivers in the Public Utilities Commission. Consistent with the act’s legislative mandate, the Public Utilities Commission has established comprehensive rules regarding the conduct of Transportation Network Company operations.
“But how’s that different?”
Well, for one thing, you cannot hail an Uber. A taxi can be hailed but not with an Uber. Like the U.S. Postal Service, neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays an Uber driver from the swift completion of his or her appointed rounds. You can hail all you want but “hail” will freeze over before an Uber driver will pull over, willy-nilly, to pick you up.
For another thing, Uber does not own a fleet. Uber’s cars are privately owned. While Uber inspects a driver’s vehicle for safety, ensures that the vehicle is properly insured and does background checks to make sure that it is safe for the driver to ferry passengers about, both the car and driver are free agents, contracting with Uber rather than laboring as employees.
When the General Assembly and the Governor signed the Transportation Network Company Act into law, it did so with the express intent of promoting innovation and affordable transportation across all of Colorado. In so doing, and in recognition that a Transportation Network Company was different than a taxi, in a statement released with the signing of the bill, Gov. John Hickenlooper said, “Colorado is once again in the vanguard in promoting innovation and competition while protecting consumers and public safety.”
The text of the statute shows a clear intent for Transportation Network Companies to be subject only to “limited” regulation.
“So if Uber isn’t a taxi is a taxi Uber?”
Nope. A taxi is a livery service, livery coming not from “liver”—chopped or otherwise —but, rather, from the days when horses confidently trod the earth. Although I’m admittedly, a little teed-off at the recent limitations of Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, let’s fly back to it for just a sec, and note that the word “livery” derives from the “feeding, stabling and care of horses for pay.”
This, however, sadly advances the ball of the distinction between a livery service and a Transportation Network Company very little. Perhaps it is enough to say they are different and, in being different, they are treated differently.
In the world of Uber, customers can book a car through an app and then track the car’s progress via real-time GPS. Payment is cashless and customers have the ability to rate their driver. Drivers who rate, on average, below a four out of five are kicked off the platform and, given — presumably — a sincere sayonara.
Oh, by the way, did you note that Transportation Network Companies do not accept cash? Payment is made via a mobile smart phone with a credit card on file. They set their own rates, which can vary at peak times. The higher the demand — say, following a Phish concert — the higher rates may go. Under the Act, Transportation Network Companies are exempt from regulations pertaining to common carriers, contract carriers, and motor carriers but must meet the regulations established by the Public Utilities Commission. These include providing adequate insurance, each driver surviving a criminal background check, each driver being at least 21 years old, limiting the number of consecutive hours a driver may provide service, displaying appropriate exterior marking, abiding by a non-discrimination policy and more.
“Why are Transportation Network Companies different?”
It’s really pretty simple. Because they’re not the same. And in addition to the whole paradigm being different, neither necessarily better or worse, because the legislature says it is.
Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley with the law firm of Stevens, Littman, Biddision, Tharp and Weinberg LLC. His practice areas include business and commercial transactions, real estate and development, family law, custody, divorce and civil litigation. Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 and at his email addresses, firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.