Ride-sharing companies like Uber presented a fascinating view of how the law works. Because the concept of ride-sharing was so unique, the legal framework in place for taxis proved inadequate and forced lawmakers to update important laws to account for important situations and protect Philadelphians. The process involved intensive lobbying and input from ride-sharing companies like Uber, as well as from affected industries like taxi companies and personal safety groups.
The result was a series of ride-sharing policies for Uber in Philadelphia that impact every ride a passenger takes with the company and its drivers, and that become especially important should something go wrong and someone gets hurt.
Uber's Novel Business Model
All of the ride-sharing policies at Uber revolve around the novelty of its business model, which strained the legal system in a variety of different ways.
Technically speaking, Uber is not a transportation company – they are a software company that designed a smartphone program that allows passengers to hail a ride from people who have room in their vehicles. The repercussions of this business model are shockingly broad. It means that Uber does not have as much control over how its drivers work as a taxi company would, preventing Uber from requiring drivers to drive particular vehicles, comply with specific company policies that tightly control how they drive, or even carry particular types of insurance.
This uncertainty caused a lot of concern in Philadelphia, where lawmakers wanted to make sure that people who hailed Uber vehicles would be kept safe and could count on compensation if something went wrong and they got hurt. Meanwhile, taxi companies faced with the very real potential of being put out of business by Uber lobbied extensively to keep ride-sharing out of Philadelphia.
The result has been a smorgasbord of legal regulations and company policies at Uber that aim to ensure Philadelphians are kept safe, innocent people are compensated for injuries sustained in accidents, and taxi companies are placated.
One of the major sources of concern for lawmakers in Philadelphia was the safety of the vehicles that were used by Uber. Uber was also concerned about what vehicles its drivers would be allowed to use, as well, but mainly because Uber wanted to control its image and did not want drivers using ugly or beat up cars. As a result, Uber drivers in Philadelphia need to use vehicles that comply with the following.
- Are less than 15 years old.
- Are 4-door vehicles with independently-opening doors.
- Are devoid of commercial branding on the outside.
- Are in good condition without cosmetic damage.
- Are state inspected and registered.
- Have working air conditioning and heat, with working windows.
- Are not titled as rebuilt or salvage vehicles.
Uber drivers who want to take passengers through other platforms, like Uber Black, can be required to satisfy additional requirements.
Regulations for Uber Drivers
Another major concern for lawmakers in Philadelphia was who would be allowed to drive the vehicles that could be hailed on Uber's smartphone app. Of particular concern was the possibility for sexual predators or dangerous and violent people using the app to lure people into their vehicle. Additionally, poor drivers with long lists of traffic violations would put innocent passengers at risk.
To alleviate these concerns, Uber requires its drivers in Philadelphia to
- be at least 21 years old;
- have at least one year of driving experience in the U.S., or three years, if the driver is under the age of 23.
- have a valid and in-state driver's license, car insurance, and registration; and
- pass a background check
This background check is supposed to ensure that the driver of an Uber vehicle is not a threat to whoever gets into the car with them – whether a threat of committing a violent crime or a threat of a car accident. Therefore, Uber's policy is to reject any driver who has any of the following infractions or incidents in the past seven years.
- A fatal accident.
- A reckless driving incident.
- Any incidents of driving without a license or insurance.
- DUI or drug-related offenses.
- A criminal history.
However, Uber's policies require drivers to self-report any changes to these requirements. Because drivers understand that reporting one of these offenses would almost guarantee losing their Uber gig, few do.
Regulations for the Fair Treatment of Passengers
Uber also has ride-sharing policies that dictate how its drivers are allowed to treat the passengers they take in their car. Discrimination on the basis of sex, race, religion, or disability are all prohibited and is supposed to be penalized with removal from the Uber platform. However, signs indicate that Uber rarely enforces these policies. Discrimination against people with disabilities is especially frequent, as drivers know that it takes more time to help disabled passengers into and out of vehicles, and that their lost time is also lost money.
Finally, Philadelphia regulators really wanted to make sure that accidents involving Uber's vehicles would not leave innocent victims uncompensated. While Uber loudly proclaims that it has a $1 million insurance policy in place for accidents, it has also quietly shown a strong interest in avoiding liability in whatever way possible. Uber's policies also require drivers to hold their own insurance, showcasing their preparation for trying to escape from liability for a crash without using their own.
Those personal insurance policies, though, do not always cover accidents and injuries that occurred while the insured driver was carrying a paying passenger. As ride-sharing has proliferated, more insurance policies have become available to cover Uber drivers, so more drivers are using policies that cover their passengers. However, accidents still happen that fall between the cracks of the insurance companies involved, leaving victims to fend for themselves.
Philadelphia Ride-Sharing Accident Lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian
The personal injury lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian strive to represent Philadelphians who get hurt in accidents caused by ride-sharing drivers from Uber. Contact us online for the legal representation you need if you have been hurt in Philadelphia and want to know what your legal rights are, and whether you have a case for compensation.