Driven to take risks

Lyft has infuriated the taxi industry, but its drivers are also hurt by difficulties getting insurance coverage

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A San Francisco taxi driver raises the Lyft insurance issue during a July 30 protest.
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY JOSH WOLF

news@sfbg.com

Lyft and its rideshare competitors are transforming the lives of the Bay Area's underemployed and out-of-work, but the insurance industry won't cover these drivers' vehicles in the event of an accident, a glitch in the business model of the nascent "shareable economy."

When I started driving for Lyft, I had no idea how I would pay my rent. After my first night shuffling strangers around the city, my worries seemed to be over. I had stumbled onto a stream of money that I could tap into whenever I wanted. I was making enough money that I started to think about replacing my aging Subaru sedan.

When I realized I could write off a good portion of the cost of a new car as a legitimate business expense, I nearly leapt at the opportunity. I started calling insurance companies to find out how much complete coverage would cost on a brand new car, but when I asked about driving with Lyft, I was told repeatedly that personal automobile insurance was insufficient.

The insurance companies that cover limos and taxis said they couldn't help me either since my car wasn't registered as a commercial vehicle. Although Lyft provides a $1 million excess liability policy, there was no way to insure my own car against an accident. The lack of available insurance has left many drivers afraid to continue shuttling passengers, despite decent pay and flexible hours.

 

CRITICS AND REGULATORS

More than $100 million in venture capital is invested in a handful of new companies working to disrupt the transportation industry. Lyft alone has raised over $80 million, including a $60 million infusion in May by Andreessen Horowitz, a $2.5 billion venture capital firm based in Menlo Park.

On July 30, California Public Utilities Commissioner Michael R. Peevey released his highly anticipated proposal to establish regulations for what the CPUC now classifies as a Transportation Network Company, or TNC. Even before the decision was announced, hundreds of taxis flooded the streets surrounding Civic Center Plaza in a protest and press conference.

"If you don't regulate everybody, don't regulate anybody," said Rosham Bhatta, a 12-year-veteran cab driver, told us. "Why are they above the law? ... They are doing exactly what we do without being regulated, that's the problem we have."

Bhatta said that on top of the $7,000 in annual commercial insurance premiums, they are burdened by numerous other fees that quickly eat away at whatever money they do make. Another driver emptied his pockets in front of me to demonstrate that he'd only made $31 since starting his shift at 9am. It was past noon.

Under the proposed regulations for TNCs, companies must adopt policies similar to those already in place by Lyft and its main competitors.

"Among other requirements established in this decision, we require each TNC (not the individual drivers) to be licensed by the California Public Utilities Commission (Commission)," said the decision, which will also "require criminal background checks for each driver, establish a driver training program, implement a zero-tolerance policy on drugs and alcohol, and require an insurance policy that is more stringent than our current requirement for limousines."

The proposal acknowledges the lack of available coverage for TNCs, and as a result "the insurance coverage must be available to cover claims regardless of whether a relevant TNC driver maintains insurance adequate to cover any portion of the claim."

"Lyft, Sidecar, and Uber have insurance coverage that currently meets our requirement," said PUC Spokesman Chris Chow via email when I inquired about whether the existing policies these companies are carrying would step in should drivers have an accident where they are at fault and their insurance company refuses to cover the claim.

Comments

and the reason we have laws about insurance, is to protect innocent people who could be hurt through the negligence of others. IE liability. You're not required to carry any insurance at all on your own car, and many people don't: if it's a risk you want to take, that's your risk to take.

I mean, I can see how this might discourage drivers, but it's not a public safety issue. If anything, being solely responsible for damages to their own cars might make Lyft drivers more careful than they would otherwise be.

How about, instead, working to reduce the $100+ gate fees paid by taxi drivers every day just to be able to work? Forget the minimum wage-- it's one of the only industries where we accept the idea of workers having to pay to work.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 06, 2013 @ 10:40 pm

... there is already an established industry, i.e. the real Taxis, with insurance providers. So if drivers like to have insurance, they just need to have a Taxi license, This is the price for getting into a matured business.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 29, 2014 @ 1:02 am

You're complaining only about a seeming inability to cover the value of your own vehicle which, you admit, is an ageing sedan and therefore not worth much anyway.

Non issue.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 06, 2013 @ 11:40 pm

Guess those taxi drivers shouldn't have been such dicks about taking credit cards for so many years... they created the need for this market

Posted by Guest on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 3:21 pm

Imagine a pedestrian or other motorist who is injured or killed by a "rideshare" driver in an at-fault accident.

If the rideshare driver admits that he or she was operating for-hire, then the driver's insurance company will deny any claims and will cancel the policy, leading to potentially serious legal problems for the rideshare driver. Only then will the rideshare company's excess insurance policy take effect.

So the rideshare driver has a strong economic incentive to protect his own insurance by concealing the fact that he was operating as a for-hire vehicle. Conveniently, that deceit would protect the rideshare company as well, but to the detriment of the injured party.

It's a perverse incentive that is baked into the business models of commercial rideshares, and it is a clear danger to the public. At the very least the vehicles need to have clear permanent markings indicating that they are in commercial service.

Posted by Charles Rathbone on Aug. 08, 2013 @ 11:38 am

You are merely speculating. My understanding, as the article clearly states, is that liability cover is not affected and is mandatory for all drivers anyway unless a bond is posted. The vehicle itself might not be covered but that is a trivial liability in comparison.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 09, 2013 @ 3:45 am

Many rideshare drivers have been told by their insurance agents that if they drive for such groups as Lyft, they will be dropped. With such information, it is a logical conclusion that the insurance agency will consider an accident while ridesharing as a breach of the insurance contract and therefore not pay it out.

It will then be up to the rideshare company to cover any issue. There's currently such a suit being done against Uber and it will be interesting to see what the company does. However, these companies have insurance for people only. The car is not covered by the company's policy.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 12, 2013 @ 9:27 am

the insurance company has not declined the claim.

Posted by anon on Aug. 12, 2013 @ 9:38 am

You keep stating that the vehicle itself might not be covered and that this is trivial. It wouldn't be trivial for me if my car was not covered and most Lyft drivers are not in the economical position where it would be trivial for them as well.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 09, 2013 @ 7:06 am

I know what you mean and it is to bad that we have this kind of issues!

Posted by Yachtbooker on Jan. 08, 2014 @ 1:14 am

In the case of California the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) required Uber as part of a temporary agreement to operate the following:

“Uber shall also provide to the Commission a copy of the insurance policy evidencing $1,000,000 of Excess Public Liability and Property Damage insurance applicable to the provision of transportation services by Non TCP Holders.”

The Personal Insurance Federation of California (PIFC) that represents six of the nation’s largest insurance companies (State Farm, Farmers, Liberty Mutual Group, Progressive, Allstate and Mercury) which collectively write a majority of the personal lines auto insurance in California. Stated the Following:

The issue before the CPUC is not ridesharing, but instead using a private passenger vehicle in a livery service. This is clearly not covered under a standard policy; if an accident occurs, coverage would not exist. http://docs.cpuc.ca.gov/PublishedDocs/Efile/G000/M042/K159/42159023.PDF

Under this conditions passenger and third parties have insurance protection but not the driver. Drivers are under the impression that they are protected under their own personal car insurance policy but they are clearly not, unless the driver in concert with the passengers denied or do not disclose it was an UberX ride.

Many Uber drivers are being deactivated and new drivers are constantly being hired to replace them, either a driver is really good or really bad, regardless the criteria that was used to rate them that often times doesn’t have any to do with being professional and more with our biases.

And one last thing, did your uberX driver enroll in a drug screening program? Well, the answer is no, and uber is going to be more busy once they implement a mandated drug testing program, and I let you elaborate on this one.

Posted by Rachel on Aug. 09, 2013 @ 12:26 pm

My understanding, as the article clearly states, is that liability cover is not affected and is mandatory for all drivers anyway unless a bond is posted. The vehicle itself might not be covered but that is a trivial liability in comparison.

Posted by plumbing school on Feb. 11, 2014 @ 6:39 am

What about pizza delivery drivers? They are the single most obvious precedent for this sort of deal: They use their own cars for a regular business purpose. Yet they are never invoked in this important discussion.

It turns out virtually none of them do anything to tell their insurance providers, because the providers screw them just as they screw rideshare drivers whenever approached.

The insurers are being villains in this discussion by showing an outright refusal to concretely, amiably address the matter. If the governing bodies are accepting of the presence of ridesharing, they need to confront insurers and mandate they accept the responsibility of insuring such drivers.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 09, 2013 @ 2:45 pm

The CPUC classified this industry as motor vehicles for hire, and must be commercially licensed and insured. Insurance companies are doing the right thing by simply requiring that these vehicles be properly classified and licensed before insuring them.

These drivers are complaining because they want to be able to run a commercial transportation business, but only want to have to pay the cost for personal liability. Not only is this immature, but it is unfair. Under these conditions, they could afford to undercut the taxi industry because they keep a far lower overhead cost.

Josh Wolf is explicitly clear in this article that despite whether he calls it a rideshare, he is operating a business. The insurance companies are simply saying that he must insure his vehicle as a business.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 13, 2013 @ 9:54 pm

There are a number of professions that, in the eyes of the insurance company, involve using ones car for an uncovered activity. Pizza delivery drivers are one example, but in the case of Pizza delivery drivers — particularly if their employer doesn't require they put something on top of their car — it is highly unlikely that the insurance company would learn that they were using the car for business at the time of the accident.

Another example that insurance companies brought up during my research is that of the realtor or the nanny, who picks up the kids from school. In both of these cases, people are driving passengers around as part of their business. Most realtors and nannies that I spoke with admitted that they just rely on their personal insurance. However, unlike drivers for Lyft, insurance companies are willing to write policies to protect realtors and nannies, but the cost is probably prohibitive — at least for nannies, I suppose a successful realtor could probably pay several grand a year in insurance if they needed to.

Posted by Josh Wolf on Aug. 10, 2013 @ 11:17 am

There are a number of professions that, in the eyes of the insurance company, involve using ones car for an uncovered activity. Pizza delivery drivers are one example, but in the case of Pizza delivery drivers — particularly if their employer doesn't require they put something on top of their car — it is highly unlikely that the insurance company would learn that they were using the car for business at the time of the accident.

Another example that insurance companies brought up during my research is that of the realtor or the nanny, who picks up the kids from school. In both of these cases, people are driving passengers around as part of their business. Most realtors and nannies that I spoke with admitted that they just rely on their personal insurance. However, unlike drivers for Lyft, insurance companies are willing to write policies to protect realtors and nannies, but the cost is probably prohibitive — at least for nannies, I suppose a successful realtor could probably pay several grand a year in insurance if they needed to.

Posted by Josh Wolf on Aug. 10, 2013 @ 11:18 am

"it is highly unlikely that the insurance company would learn that they were using the car for business at the time of the accident."

If you really believe this you haven't see good lawyers in action.

Realtors are usually acceptable by most underwrtiting guidelines and there is a business use rating factor applied.

Nannies might be a little more of a gray area. They are not getting paid to transport children. They are getting paid to take care of children and picking them up is a part of that.

Lyft drivers are specifically paid to transport people which is defined as a Livery exposure and specifically excluded by personal auto policies.

Posted by JAlex on Sep. 17, 2013 @ 10:47 am

responsible for their own insurance. Supplements can be bought for an insurance policy to cover such liabilities.

Lyft may also have an umbrella policy.

Non issue.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 17, 2013 @ 11:12 am

No, there are no supplements. The Lyft driver would have to get commercial insurance to cover his vehicle. But the problem for these part time drivers is that this insurance is too expensive for them.

Posted by ClaimsAdjuster on Oct. 18, 2013 @ 8:23 pm

The CPUC classified this industry as motor vehicles for hire, and must be commercially licensed and insured. Insurance companies are doing the right thing by simply requiring that these vehicles be properly classified and licensed before insuring them.

These drivers are complaining because they want to be able to run a commercial transportation business, but only want to have to pay the cost for personal liability. Not only is this immature, but it is unfair. Under these conditions, they could afford to undercut the taxi industry because they keep a far lower overhead cost.

Josh Wolf is explicitly clear in this article that despite whether he calls it a rideshare, he is operating a business. The insurance companies are simply saying that he must insure his vehicle as a business.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 13, 2013 @ 9:55 pm

There was an accident occurred on 101 towards the airport. The Lyft driver went off the ramp and the passenger was seriously injured. The driver's insurance denied the claim for operating as for hire and Lyft doesn't cover any cost at all . The insurance Lyft doesn't have can't do anything and the passenger was stranded with a huge medical bill while recovering from injuries sustained.
That case has never been mentioned or reportedby any media made me wonder about the situations. I will take legally operated Taxi and make sure I have enough CASH to pay for a $10 ride. I am just amazed people pay a$5 ride with credit card and it's ridiculous to complain about taxis not taking credit cards while there are a lot of bars and restaurants don't take credit card.
I consider taking a cab is convenient and paying credit card for pocket change is ridiculous.

Posted by David on Aug. 31, 2013 @ 1:22 pm
Posted by Guest on Aug. 31, 2013 @ 2:03 pm

Agreed. I am a commercial insurance broker in Chicago who was looking into driving for Lyft before they came to our market. Then, (unlike most people i assume), I actually THOUGHT about coverage- and I concluded, after asking for the policy from Lyft (no response) to talking with seasoned insurance professional colleagues to calling my own personal auto carrier (progressive) to ask, and the conclusion I reached was the same: VERY dangerous, not only as a driver but for passengers too. There is no coverage unless you have a commercial policy, and I guarantee that 90%+ of Lyft drivers don't have one.

So, in short, ditto everyone above. I would never, knowing what I know now, ever get into a ridesharing car. My life and future financial future isn't worth saving $5.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 05, 2013 @ 2:14 pm

First of all no one should really be telling anyone how to feel about anything, that's called mind control, you've heard of Jim Jones. Second, anyone that doesn't take the time to form their own opinion on something and is willing accept someone else postulates on anything is susceptible to Jim Jones types. Democratic is a great term for "taxi system" it is a lot like two wolves (the established taxi companies) and a sheep (the upstarts like "Lyft") deciding what is for diner although I think the term FASCIST is more appropriate, because of the massive government intervention involved. Not that some government intervention isn't necessary, maybe to secure the safety of the vehicle....maybe. We've managed to let self interested elected officials fill their pockets with special interest money for so long we can't differentiate republican-democracy with a free market economy (our original founding) from hitleresque fascism (AKA picking winner and losers). Communism/socialism hasn't worked anywhere with regard to improving the condition of poor people because humans are humans. More often than not those seeking power are willing to corrupt themselves for their own self interest. It is really a form of coveting and the more power one gives them through "government" which is really "FORCE", make no mistake about that, the more the force takes via the use of their Gibraltar "for the good of the people".

Posted by Guest on Dec. 23, 2013 @ 3:48 am

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Posted by Guest on Jan. 22, 2014 @ 12:11 pm

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Posted by Guest on Feb. 08, 2014 @ 3:47 pm

Ride share drivers - now Transportation Network Company drivers - have been gettng a nearly free ride. But there's no such thing as "free" in the business world.

Drivers should know that if their insurance company learns that they were driving for money, their policy will most likely be voided.

Within the last few days, the California Department of Insurance issued a letter to TNC drivers, saying that their companies are not required to provide medical payments coverage, comprehensive, collision, uninsured motorist, or other optional coverages. The letter says that drivers may have to buy a commercial policy, to get these coverages.

Posted by fogmeister on Feb. 13, 2014 @ 8:03 pm

I believe this question was answered in the article but I feel obliged to ask it again. Do ride sharing companies drug test for marijuana? Does having a medical marijuana license make any difference?

Posted by dudez on Feb. 17, 2014 @ 9:18 pm

The country is moving toward legalization anyway, and drug testing for a substance whose recreational use off the job has zero bearing on the job, is the wrong way to go. THC stays in the system for 30 days, so you could come out positive after the effects are long gone. If someone is visibly intoxicated to the point of being impaired, that's what the police are for. Drug testing for things you do off the job is just an invasion of privacy.

I have many issues with these gypsy cabs, but drug testing or lack thereof is not one of them.

Posted by Greg on Feb. 17, 2014 @ 10:59 pm

Im an insurance broker and I'm amazed at prospective clients and operators signed up with Uber and Lyft who rely on what these companies say about their insurance policy and are reluctant to research and or question if they and their passengers and their vehicle are properly insured even with the case in CA where the company and their insurer are not paying a claim because the injury occurred between rides. That denial of the claim should give pause to drivers as well as the fact that their personal lines policies are worthless when they are driving for hire. Commercial lines insurers are not lining up to insure Uber or Lyft drivers at any price because these are personal autos and there are no city of chicago regs yet on underlying insurance limit requirements, licensing and registration, training, or vehicle inspections and there is no experience rating for drivers to help insurers evaluate, price and underwrite the risk. Who would want to work for a company that puts tgeir wirkers st risk abd perpetuates lies? Wake up drivers!

Posted by Guest on Apr. 17, 2014 @ 10:12 pm

I believe that these "ride sharing "companies" insurance is worthless if the insurance provider is not license to sell coverage in every state or country

Posted by Guest mario on May. 17, 2014 @ 1:56 am

There is only one way under current insurance (personal vs commercial) to do this correctly as a driver. And yes it costs more.

1. Form a corporation or an LLC
2. Title your car in the name of the entity
3. Buy a Business Auto Policy with full disclosure

It's really not that complicated. If you can't manage doing it right then don't do it.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 12, 2014 @ 9:53 pm

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