LA taxi drivers don't want Uber giving free rides for vaccinations

Earlier this month, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced what sounded like a pretty smart idea. (I know… I was shocked too.) Working through the non-profit Mayor’s Fund, ridesharing giant Uber was donating half a million dollars to set up a system whereby anyone with an appointment to get a vaccination could get a free ride to and from the pod by summoning an Uber. One of the many complaints with the vaccine rollout in the City of Angels was that impoverished, underserved communities weren’t receiving enough opportunities for vaccinations, sometimes because people simply couldn’t afford to travel to get jabbed. This plan would allow any of them to install the app on their phone and have a driver take them from their door to the pod and back home at no cost.

Who could be opposed to that sort of idea? As it turns out, the labor union representing the city’s legacy taxi drivers could and they did. They’re complaining that what Uber is really doing is trying to buy influence with the Mayor. And they would like to put a stop to it. (CBS Los Angeles)

Uber’s $500,000 donation of rides to the Mayor’s Fund for Los Angeles has come under fire from the city’s taxi drivers who claim the rideshare giant is trying to influence city politics.

“I think it’s dirty politics, but then politics has never been a clean business,” Leon Slomovic, president of the Taxi Workers Association of Los Angeles, said.

The donation came as the city and taxi drivers — who have been hard hit by the rise of rideshare services — were working on a new fare structure that would hopefully allow them to better compete, and taxi workers are not happy.

So is Uber really trying to buy some influence with Garcetti by dumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into the Mayor’s Fund and giving him the chance to hold a press conference announcing free rides for the poor? Of course they are. That’s pretty much been the sole reason for the existence of the Mayor’s Fund from the beginning and the program has faced a lot of criticism for it. After all, there was really no reason that Uber had to funnel cash through the fund to do this. In New York (and other places) Uber gave people free rides to the polls on election day. All they had to do was tap an “I’m voting” button on the app and enter a destination that was a polling precinct location. They could have done the same in Los Angeles by obtaining a list of pod locations from the city.

But that doesn’t make it a bad idea, does it? The end result is still the same if people are getting free rides to the pods. Under the covers, all Uber is really doing is “paying for” the rides using their own money. So who winds up looking worse in this scenario… the guy announcing free rides for vaccinations or the group complaining about it?

The taxi drivers are mostly complaining because of their hatred for all things Uber. The rideshare companies have really hammered the taxi industry in Los Angeles just as they have all around the country. Uber offers a more dependable and well-managed service in cleaner cars for a competitive price. The cab companies have now been forced to come up with a new system that will allow them to cut costs and offer better prices, but they still can’t hold a candle to the Uber app that allows you to know where your driver is at all times.

In the end, the taxi drivers probably don’t have much to worry about anyway. The Mayor will obviously be happy to take Uber’s money and score a couple of nice headlines, but I highly doubt Uber will get much “influence” in return. The municipal government of Los Angeles is pretty much on the same page as the state government of California. They’ve been trying to drive Uber out of the state for years as a favor to the cab companies and their unions. That’s unlikely to change at this point, no matter how much cash Uber dumps into the Mayor’s coffers.