There are frequent articles in the San Francisco Chronicle about travel start-up companies like car ride service Uber and accommodation booking service AirBnB and the disjointed regulatory environment encompassing their services.
On New Year’s Eve in San Francisco, a six-year-old girl was killed by an Uber contracted driver who was not carrying any passengers at the time of the accident. The driver was logged onto the UberX app looking for passengers when the accident occurred.
This week there was a lawsuit filed by the girl’s family against Uber.
The suit, filed in San Francisco Superior Court, alleges that the driver of the vehicle – who was at that time an Uber contractor – was logged on to the company’s UberX app when he fatally struck Sofia Liu and was waiting to receive and accept a ride request. The driver’s attorney has also said he was between fares.
The company, which takes a cut of every ride booked through its system, declined to comment Monday. In the past, Uber officials have said the driver, 57-year-old Syed Muzzafar of Union City, was not providing services on the company’s basic UberX system because he did not have a passenger with him.
The suit calls this a narrow view of how companies like Uber do business. Christopher Dolan, the family’s attorney, said the phone-based interface that drivers use to find fares contributed to the death of Sofia, along with injuries to her mother, Huan Kuang, and 5-year-old brother, Anthony Liu. Dolan said Uber had denied insurance protection that would have covered the family and the driver.
Because drivers must interact with the Uber app to locate and pick up riders, the app violates a California law that seeks to cut down on distracted driving, the suit says. Uber drivers “must respond quickly to a user request for service by physically interfacing with the app, thereby leading to distraction,” the lawsuit states.
SFGate.com Jan 28, 2014
Another article appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle today, Drivers for Uber, Lyft stuck in insurance limbo on the topic of drivers contracting with car ride services like Uber and Lyft being stuck in limbo between holding personal auto insurance and commercial insurance coverage.
Turns out that drivers who have been in accidents find their personal insurance will not cover their damage claims once it is determined they were contracted as a paid commercial driver and carrying paying passengers. And commercial driver insurance is far higher than personal insurance.
Uber and Lyft are required to carry liability coverage for passengers, however, there are coverage gaps. Like the 6-year-old girl who was killed in San Francisco on New Year’s Eve.
2014 is still the wild west in terms of the regulatory environment governing contracted travel services like Uber, Lyft and AirBnB. Contractors can get screwed, the public can get screwed, travelers get discount rates, travel bloggers get referral commissions for promoting these services, and the tech companies are rapidly growing toward the day they can cash out in a big IPO.
I am all for increasing travel options with car ride services like Uber and Lyft and services like AirBnB for lodging. These companies use the web to benefit travelers and create jobs. I am also for a regulatory environment that protects consumers and the public from situations that arise with these travel service innovations.
Ric Garrido of Monterey, California is writer and owner of Loyalty Traveler.
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