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Jewish Journal

IGNORING THE PUBLIC INTEREST

by  David A. Lehrer

October 24, 2013 | 2:01 pm

The new ride sharing service

This week, the Los Angeles City Council came close to buckling to lobbyists and special interests to harm the interests of many of its residents. It did so with transparently illogical explanations that insult the intelligence of its constituents while hiding what really animated them to act.

On Wednesday, the Los Angeles City Council narrowly defeated (by a 7-6 vote) a motion that would have set the stage for Los Angeles City regulations that limited, if not eliminated, the new technology based ride sharing innovations that have revolutionized travel in numerous cities around the world (e.g. Uber, Lyft and Sidecar). Uber alone operates in cities from Bangalore to Sydney from Paris to Dubai, but Los Angeles stood likely to not be among them had the motion passed.

Earlier, the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC") had voted, as the Los Angeles Times editorialized, to regulate  "transportation network companies" with rules modeled after its “rules for limousines, including mandatory criminal background checks and training programs for drivers, safety inspections for cars and a zero-tolerance policy for drug and alcohol use. The commission also required that the companies carry more comprehensive liability insurance than limousine services do — and more than taxis in Los Angeles must carry. “

AS a bit of background, Uber gets rave reviews for the convenience it provides LA's residents---a glance at Yelp reveals that Uber LA receives 3.5 stars [out of a possible 5] in 116 reviews for its service while Yellow Cab LA garners 1.5 stars in 67 reviews.

The most recent review on Yelp from Wednesday wrote,

BEST THING that ever happened to public transportation!
Uber is basically a taxi or a car service but BETTER!
You install the app on your phone, set up your account, and voilà....private drivers at your disposal!  Take the ride and your credit card on file is charged automatically.  You also get a receipt emailed to you at the end of the ride.  Cash is not necessary and you can set the percent of tip online.

Despite the innovative nature and popularity of Uber, especially in a city where the taxi charges are exorbitant, where it’s illegal to hail a taxi outside of Downtown and Hollywood, and where distances are extreme---nearly a majority of the City Council was ready to kiss Uber et al. good bye for the most transparently flimsy of reasons. Councilman Paul Koretz, who has spearheaded the anti-Uber push, claims that his opposition is animated by a concern that the PUC doesn’t have sufficient staff to enforce its regulations and “disasters” loom on the horizon.

Koretz’s alleged concern just didn’t make sense; there are thousands of regulations that exist for which there isn’t sufficient enforcement staff---- that is hardly a compelling or believable reason for the councilman’s opposition. It is also untrue, as the Times editorial opposing the motion makes clear. The PUC has and does enforce its regulations, “the PUC’s quarterly reports, show that it is issuing fines, sending cease-and–desist notices, disconnecting unlicensed services’ phone lines and bringing criminal charges against alleged limo and shuttle rule breakers.”

Mercifully, the LA Times did a little digging to uncover what could have motivated councilmen to vote against an innovative, modern, and terribly useful new service that has been almost universally embraced.

It didn’t take too much digging to discover that Koretz received $5,200 from cab companies and their owners and that Councilmen Curran Price and Gil Cedillo, both of whom joined Koretz, together received $76,000 in contributions from a taxicab political action committee. Apparently, for that amount of campaign money, logic and the public’s interest evaporate.

That there are venal public officials is hardly a shock, politics is not a pretty business. But what is nearly as distressing is that in an era of open contributor records and a still vibrant local reporter corps that can dig and find facts, politicians would be so obtuseand so dismissive of the public's memory and intelligence as to vote brazenly against the public interest and with an apparent conflict of interest to boot. There seems to be no shame about being revealed to having taken boatloads of money and mindlessly doing the bidding of contributors. Apparently, there is little to worry about in terms of political fallout.

In an era before the internet and easy access to open contributor records, the council did the bidding of various lobbies to insure that the Metro didn’t go to all the way to LAX, a mistake that has yet to be remedied. They barely avoided a similar mistake this week; but a near majority exhibited a disregard for their constituents’ interests that is troubling.

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