Uber Scrambles to Beat Back Insurance and Safety Regulations

Uber, Lyft, and other on-demand taxi startups are on a lobbying blitz this week as California lawmakers consider two pieces of legislation that would strengthen insurance and background check requirements on the companies.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Silicon Valley startups are fighting a bill that would specify what type of insurance "ride-sharing" drivers would have to carry, and how much they would be covered for.

Sacramento's powerful insurance lobby enlisted Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla (D-Concord) to author a bill that would boost the dollar amount of coverage required by the state and prohibit drivers from using personal policies instead of commercial ones when carrying fare-paying passengers.

"The real point of the bill is to say that personal insurance policies should not be bearing the cost for this business model," she said. "It should be the company that pays."

Uber and other allied tech startups have reportedly hired seven public relations and lobbying firms to battle Bonilla and her insurance bill. According to the Los Angeles Times, the companies have gone so far as to send out mailers to her Assembly district, describing her legislation as "anti-tech" and "anti-consumer choice."

Uber's CEO Travis Kalanick has also been been personally shaming a lawmaker who was arrested late last week for suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol, suggesting that Sen. Ben Hueso wouldn't have been arrested had he been an Uber supporter.

Beyond the proposed insurance legislation, Uber and Lyft are also actively battling another bill that would shore up background checks for on-demand taxi startups, the San Jose Mercury News reports.

The other bill up for a vote Thursday — AB612 by Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian, D-Van Nuys — would require deeper background checks, participation in a DMV program that lets employers monitor workers' driving records, and drug and alcohol testing of these companies' drivers. It would bar the companies from using drivers with past convictions for crimes including forgery and credit-card fraud.

It's "a burdensome approach that is backed by the taxicab lobby, really, to try and shut us down," [Sidecar CEO Sunil Paul] said. "If it passes, it is a disaster — it would literally spell the end of the ride-share industry."

If beefing up background checks and insurance requirements means the end of companies like Uber, then what does that say about the safety of their services?

To contact the author of this post, please email kevin@valleywag.com.

Photo: Getty