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Battle Between 'Big Taxi' And Rideshare Apps Heats Up

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L.A. taxi drivers have joined forces with two L.A. councilmembers to demand that rideshare apps be held to the same safety standards as taxis. Meanwhile, Uber says their rides are just as safe as taxis, if not more so.

Piggybacking on a recent story about an off-duty Uber driver who allegedly took a drunk woman to a motel, Councilmembers Paul Koretz and Gil Cedillo held a press conference today to talk about Assembly Bill 612.

This piece of legislature would require rideshare drivers to have the same kind of background checks and insurance that L.A. taxi drivers must abide by. Koretz even went so far as to say in a release about the bill that he would ask his daughter not to use Uber because he regards the service as "unsafe."

The councilmembers were joined by hundreds of taxi cab drivers holding signs that read "City Hall, Stop Unfair Competition." They held a similar protest back in June 2013, but to no avail. In response, a petition circulated coming to the defense of rideshare, saying that cab drivers are "rude" and "drive erratically."

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The main differences protesters of rideshare programs cite is that those drivers don't have to provide fingerprints in their background checks or safety inspections on their vehicles.

Uber issued a response today, saying the protest was "nothing more than an attempt to distract from the facts" by "Big Taxi."

Uber is the safest ride on the road and is committed to delivering convenient, safe and reliable transportation options; in fact, tens of thousands of Los Angelenos are already enjoying the freedom afforded by our technology as both driver partners and riders. We are proud of our best-in-class insurance policy, which includes one million dollars in commercial insurance coverage for all vehicles engaged in a trip via the Uber platform - far more than most taxis in the state. Uber driver partners also must pass a rigorous industry-leading background check that includes county, federal and multi-state checks going back 7 years, compared to taxi's 5 years.

Uber's had a slew of negative press lately. An investigation by NBC4 revealed several drivers with criminal records including one driver who was arrested for nearly beating a girl to death. Then there were the passengers who said they were overcharged or not warned about outrageous surge pricing. Another driver allegedly locked his passengers in the car until they gave him a 5-star rating. An Uber driver last December allegedly demanded $500 for the return of a phone a passenger left in his car.

Most recently and most disturbing is the report of an Uber driver who was accused of taking a woman who was so drunk she couldn't say where she lived to a motel and sleeping next to her. However, the ride was not coordinated through the app and was not an official ride and all charges have since been dropped. Uber has since suspended that particular driver's account. Uber typically distances itself from any incident that occurs between rides, including the death of a 6-year-old girl who was hit by an Uber driver in San Francisco not while he was not completing an assignment, but driving around looking for Uber fares. Taxi cabs, by comparison, are insured at all times.

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However, if passenger safety is the goal, then taxis have had their own issues. In 2009, a cab driver was arrested for targeting lone female passengers and sexually assaulting them. Then there was another cab driver in 2012 who was accused of sexually assaulting several female passengers. There was also a Beverly Hills cabbie who crashed his car into a house after the passengers told him he was charging too much considering he got lost several times along the way.

Given Uber's convenience, it's understandable that cab companies and their drivers would be worried about losing money to rideshare apps. A protester told NBC today that cab business is down 30 percent, while Uber itself is worth $18.2 billion and counting.

Mayor Eric Garcetti has historically been supportive of rideshare programs with safety regulations, as well as working with taxi companies to keep up with new technology.