Detroit cab drivers protest Uber operations

Holly Fournier and Evan Carter

Detroit — Taxi drivers rallied in downtown Detroit Wednesday to protest what they called unregulated and illegal Uber operations in the city.

"We're here to make sure we have a level playing field," said Darryl Bradley, vice president of the Metro Detroit Cab Drivers Association, which organized the protest Wednesday outside the Coleman A. Young Municipal Building.

"We go through inspection fees, meter fees, we have to be inspected by the police department, and background checks are done by the city," Bradley said. "We want (Uber drivers) to go through the same thing we do."

About three dozen taxi drivers, employed by several companies including Checker, Comfort Cab and the Greater Detroit Cab Company, circled the building in their vehicles during the protest.

Kenneth Kabaka Reynolds, the association's president, questioned Uber's legality in light of a December 2013 cease-and-desist order issued by the Michigan Department of Transportation. Uber is a service that allows riders to use a computer app to connect to drivers who pick them up using their own vehicles.

"They are illegal in the state of Michigan and they're operating with impunity," Reynolds said.

Reynolds said that if Uber is to remain operating in Detroit, city officials should regulate it like the traditional taxi cab industry.

"And if you're not going to regulate Uber, deregulate the taxi cab industry," he said.

An Uber representative on Wednesday said the organization has been an asset to Michigan residents.

"Since we launched in 2013, Uber has improved the quality of life for thousands of Michiganders, connecting more than two million rides in the Mitten State and creating thousands of driver jobs," spokesman Leor Reef said. "Since we launched, Uber driver-partners have collectively earned more than $25 million. While there are those who don't want any competition, we believe that people having more transportation choices in Michigan is a good thing."

Ron Scott, a consultant to the cab drivers and spokesman for the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, said the lack of regulation leaves Uber users vulnerable to uninspected vehicles and drivers who haven't gone through extensive background checks.

"It's not a question about whether or not we're against Uber… people in the community should be worried about them," Scott said.

Reynolds said cab drivers are hoping for a City Council ordinance to help bring equality to car service operations in Detroit.

Uber drivers can offer cheaper rates than traditional taxis because they don't have to pay as much for insurance, Reynolds said. This is has resulted in a 70 to 75 percent reduction in business for cabs in Detroit, he said.

"It's very hard. You're looking at drivers that are suffering," Reynolds said. "They're making less than minimum wage."

Cab driver Byron Shelby, 54, said he struggles to make a profit after paying various fees associated with traditional cab services.

"I'm trying to fight for my future," he said while stopped at a red light near the Spirit of Detroit statue. "I own this cab, I pay fees to the city, and commercial insurance is sky-high. Uber does not pay like we do."

As Detroit's cab companies fight to regulate Uber, they also are working to compete through the creation of their own app, Reynolds said.

"We're still talking to all the companies to make sure it's one app" instead of one for each company, he said. "We're hoping (to unroll it) by the end of July. We're getting to that point."

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