Like any other profession, driving is a type of business too, and an essential one at that. Think of a city without cabs. The one picture that instantly comes to mind is that of chaos. One could say that the cab network of a city forms its very backbone and without it, the city is pretty much crippled. Being a business in itself, cab or rideshare drivers must, therefore, get a business license from an approved authority to safely and legally operate this business in a city. Unfortunately though, since this rule has come into focus quite recently, a majority of the drivers aren't aware of the development and continue to ride the way they used to.
In a way, TNCs like Uber and Lyft are partly to blame for this one. Whenever a driver signs up for a job at these companies, he isn't required to present his business license to the company. Perhaps if that were the case, we wouldn't be facing this situation right now. But having said that, developments are certainly on their way now. Cities like San Francisco have recently made it mandatory for rideshare drivers to get a business license. The only problem is that these licenses always come with a hefty fee, something that many of our drivers are not quite in a position to afford, and are also a blatant intrusion of their privacy.
Uber Takes a Stand
Earlier this week a dominant San Francisco daily, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Uber had formally contested a subpoena that required the drivers' personal information. The San Francisco Treasurer initially requested this under the pretext of keeping a record of whether the drivers are independent contractors or not. When asked about this, an Uber spokesperson said that after they initially complied with the subpoena, and provided them with the details, their drivers started receiving hefty bills in their emails, which most of them were unable to pay.
Additionally, now that the drivers are registered with the Treasurer's office, all of their personal details including their names and addresses have been posted online in the city's database. This means any random person can now easily access their records simply be searching with the filters 'Uber', 'Lyft' or 'TNC'.
Endless Possibilities of Privacy Violation
The primary reason why we feel this step has been detrimental to drivers, and in fact not beneficial to anyone in general, is that there is absolutely no purpose behind putting up all of that information online. There can't possibly be any constructive use for it, and neither are the citizens of the city benefitting from it anyway. As for the drivers, it is nothing short of a privacy nightmare. The possibilities for abuse that they could suffer due to this are endless.
Marketing agencies could use this to their advantage by sending out emails specifically to the drivers for schemes and useless services targeted at them, resulting in an overwhelmingly high amount of junk mail. Frauds or internet scammers could pose as TNCs and send out mails to the drivers asking them for their personal details, and later use these details to rob them of their hard-earned money. This list of drivers can turn out to be a massive source of income and business for marketers and scammers, but a potential nightmare for the drivers themselves. Even if the SF department were to state that this data has been collected simply for research purposes, it still wouldn't explain why they need the information about rideshare driver out there, especially when we are more of the employees of the TNCs that we work for, rather than individual businesspeople ourselves.
Hefty Fares for Each City You Ride In
As of now, San Francisco charges $91 a year for these business licenses. Although a very limited number of cities currently practice this rule, if things were to keep going the way they are, soon enough most of the cities will follow suit. Cities like Oakland are already considering this move. This will inevitably lead to a lot of the rideshare drivers losing their jobs. In fact, what if a driver decides to change cities? Having already purchased a license to operate in the previous town, the driver will be forced to cough up the same amount for a new license in the new city as well.
A major example of this problem is provided by the Bay Area, where drivers often end up being in three cities, San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland, over the course of a regular week. Does this mean a driver operating here will always need to have three licenses handy? Whether they accept it or not, city departments and law enforcement agencies are merely viewing all of this as a way to cash in, and as a steady revenue stream, not caring if multitudes of drivers are trampled in the process, or robbed of their jobs.
Uber Fighting on Multiple Fronts
While having already challenged the subpoena by the SF department, Uber is now headed to California, where they plan to present a bill named SB 182. It states that drivers need not get a separate license for each city they operate in, and must only get a single one for operating throughout the year irrespective of the city. It also includes a clause that calls for the protection of drivers' privacy, stating that the personal information submitted by the drivers must not be uploaded publically in any way, least of all on an online website. The company has also sent out a petition to be signed by all of their drivers, urging them to support this bill.
While Uber certainly has clear motives for supporting this bill and fighting against these new rules, like improving relations with their drivers, or avoiding losses faced by new employees hesitant to join the company simply because they're unable to afford licensing charges. This movement is certainly going to help existing drivers in the long run. Rideshare drivers already have a lot of challenges on their plate already, and bringing such rules into play can only push the level of stress they go through even higher.