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Mayors conference shows Uber support, infuriating San Francisco taxi industry

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In this photo taken Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014, people go past the headquarters of Uber in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

This week nearly 300 mayors from across the country are joining San Francisco’s Mayor Ed Lee for the annual United States Conference of Mayors at the Hilton Union Square Hotel.

President Barack Obama is slated to address the mayors Friday afternoon, capping off a day of discussion on the economic health of America’s cities.

Now some groups are saying ride-hail tech company Uber has undue influence on the conference. As the mayors wine, dine and hobnob, much of this will be paid for by Uber and its rival, Lyft.

The pair are listed as sponsors on the itinerary released by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, along with Google, Kaiser, JP Morgan Chase and others. Conference spokespeople did not return emails requesting specific amounts Uber and Lyft spent.

The mayors are slated to take a tour of Uber headquarters on Market Street on Monday. National and local taxi groups are denouncing Uber.

“They’re buying them off,” said Barry Korengold, an executive board member of the local Taxi Workers Alliance, a member of the AFL-CIO.

Korengold and other taxi drivers plan to protest outside Uber headquarters on Monday. They say ride-hail apps pay their drivers low wages, have drivers that carry inadequate insurance, and enroll drivers with problematic criminal backgrounds.

“We’re trying to get the mayors to honor our picket line and not go there,” Korengold said, because the tech company’s business model “is predicated on breaking the law.”

Mayor Paul Soglin, of Madison, Wis. agrees mayors have too much face time with Uber and Lyft.
“Courting is an understatement,” Soglin said, of Uber’s influence. “Their role has been exceptional in terms of how much face time they’ve had with mayors.”

In Madison, Wis., a woman was allegedly sexually assaulted by an Uber driver, Soglin said, and Uber refused to tell Madison officials the suspect’s identity. Soglin said the suspect fled the country by the time Madison officials determined his identity.

At least year’s conference, Soglin argued for stricter regulations of ride-hail apps. He will introduce his regulation again at the conference Saturday.

Will San Francisco support Soglin’s call for tighter regulations to protect Uber riders?

Mayor Ed Lee’s spokeswoman Christine Falvey said the Mayor’s Office has not yet reviewed Soglin’s resolution, but said “the mayor believes ride share companies should be regulated and knows that the [California Public Utilities Commission] has taken many actions to do this.”

Other restrictions may soon clamp down on the tech-giants, as multiple lawsuits push for Uber and Lyft drivers to be classified as employees. A recent ruling by the California Labor Commission found one Uber driver was an employee, and not a contractor.

Uber would not comment on the U.S. Conference of Mayors, but said in a statement, “The California Labor Commission’s ruling is non-binding and applies to a single driver.”

Update (June 19, 10:15 a.m.):

Uber spokeswoman Kate Downen sent us the following statement after the Examiner went to press:

“We are thrilled to be one of the many San Francisco groups welcoming leaders from across the nation to our home city. In just five years, Uber has made a significant impact on local communities by delivering reliable and affordable options, helping to create tens of thousands of economic opportunities, reducing DUI rates, and increasing access to underserved neighborhoods. Local jurisdictions are recognizing the way in which their communities are embracing ridesharing and, in the last year alone, 48 jurisdictions across the country have adopted regulations that embrace ridesharing.”

joe@sfexaminer.com

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