Rep. Lisa Subeck is ‘incredibly’ disappointed by Democrats who support the state bill.
When Paul Reznikoff started working as an Uber driver shortly after the app-based taxi launched in Madison last February, it seemed like the perfect job.
The money was great. He was getting paid to cruise around and listen to music, and he met interesting people. Perhaps best of all, he had complete control of his schedule.
“In the beginning I had no complaints,” Reznikoff says.
But as the months passed, his opinion of his employer soured.
He started noticing discrepancies on his paychecks that contradicted the meticulous trip log he kept on a clipboard in his car. Uber drivers split their fares with the company 80/20, but Reznikoff says his compensation “wasn’t adding up.”
Since Uber employees are classified as independent contractors, drivers get no benefits and must pay for expenses like vehicle maintenance and fuel. Those costs cut into drivers’ take-home pay.
“There were times when I was spending more than I was making,” Reznikoff says.
He also worried about the scope of the company’s insurance, which provides commercial liability coverage only when there is a passenger in the vehicle. While drivers are logged into the app and out trolling for fares, they must rely on their own personal auto insurance.
Finally, he grew frustrated with what he considered a lack of feedback and communication from Uber management personnel. He says they’d send out weekly email and text blasts to drivers, but when employees had issues, Uber support staff was hard to reach and often gave what sounded like “scripted answers.”
“I think Uber is great from the passenger and client perspective,” says Reznikoff who quit his job with the company last month. “But from a driver’s standpoint, it’s very frustrating as a company on so many levels.”
Uber spokeswoman Lauren Altmin says company support staff are available “24/7” to address concerns from both riders and “driver partners” and pointed to an Uber-commissioned study that found high levels of satisfaction among employees.
At least one Madison Uber driver agrees.
“I think [Uber] is one of the most reliable, dependable, safe and efficient forms of transportation that Madison has ever had,” says the driver, who requested anonymity because he fears retaliation from Madison’s traditional taxicab employees.
He says Uber drivers are subject to verbal harassment, stalking and have had their license plate numbers reported to police. “We are at a state of war here,” he says.
The San Francisco-based Uber, which is reportedly valued at $40 billion, launched as UberCab in 2009 and now has a presence in virtually every major U.S. city and has expanded to 56 countries. It’s wildly popular, with the number of rides provided and its share of the transportation market rapidly growing. But critics worry about the company’s aggressive, largely unregulated expansion and its impact on locally owned taxi companies.
The company has also experienced bad press, including the death of a 6-year-old girl struck by an Uber driver in San Francisco, numerous rape allegations against drivers and an instance in which a company executive threatened journalists.
The ride-hailing company and its main competitor, Lyft, faced significant resistance from local officials in Madison, with police issuing citations to drivers working illegally and the city of Madison filing charges against Uber in January.
And even as the Madison city council voted earlier this month to allow the ride-hailing companies to operate under a set of strict regulations, legislators at the state level are voting this week on a bill that would impose statewide regulations that would override local ordinances.
The legislation requires ride-hailing companies to purchase a $5,000 license, conduct background checks on drivers and maintain at least $1 million in liability insurance. The bill would also prohibit drivers from discriminating against passengers based on race, religion, gender or disability.
The bipartisan bill was introduced last month in the Assembly by Reps. Cory Mason (D-Racine) and Tyler August (R-Lake Geneva) and in the Senate by Sens. Paul Farrow (R-Pewaukee) and Julie Lassa (D-Stevens Point).
On Tuesday, the Assembly approved the bill on a 79-19 vote. The Senate is expected to vote on the measure during the next floor period, which begins April 21.
In a statement, Uber representatives called the bill a “progressive regulatory approach for ridesharing” and praised lawmakers for supporting it. “This legislation creates significant earning opportunities for Wisconsin drivers,” the statement said. “By recognizing the need for common-sense regulations in ridesharing, these legislators have not only made riders safer but also positioned Wisconsin for more economic growth.”
But critics such as Rep. Lisa Subeck (D-Madison) say the regulations don’t go far enough.
“I have a lot of concerns,” Subeck says. She dislikes that the bill removes local regulatory control and feels that the standards proposed are “too minimal.”
“It puts [Uber] on an unlevel playing field versus the locally owned, locally operated taxicab companies in Madison,” says Subeck, characterizing the company as the “Walmart of taxicab companies.”
The ride-hailing companies should be held to the same standards as traditional cab companies, Subeck says, which in Madison means requirements for vehicle and driver permitting, inspections and the guarantee of 24/7 service to the entire city. If the proposed legislation had risen to those standards, Subeck says she would have considered signing on as a co-sponsor. Subeck also had sharp words for fellow Democrats supporting the bill.
“It’s incredibly disappointing on a philosophical level,” she says. “I would think regardless of party we should all support small local businesses.”