TLPA President Michael Fogarty delivering keynote presentation at the Greater California Livery Association's annual Expo, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015. (Photo by Tim Crowley/LCT)
COSTA MESA, Calif. — The President of the leading taxi industry trade group started off with a clear and obvious message on Sept. 24, but one that still needs repeating to counter media misinformation:
“Transportation networking companies (TNCs) are taxis, not technology,” said Michael Fogarty, President of the Taxicab Limousine & Paratransit Association. That fact rebuts the pro-TNC slogan, often repeated in media outlets, that TNCs are technology companies.
Fogarty was the keynote speaker at the annual Greater California Livery Association Expo in Costa Mesa, Calif. While Fogarty heads the leading taxicab trade group, he also works as the President of Tristar Worldwide in Boston, a global chauffeured service ranked No. 2 on the 2015 LCT 50 Largest Fleets List with 517 vehicles worldwide. His dual taxi and limo industry roles have provided a unique opportunity for the two industries to communicate and cooperate like never before on the issue of regulatory fairness with TNCs.
“Uber does everything a normal taxi would do,” Fogarty said. “Customers do not see Uber as a booking service. They believe they are being transported by Uber.”
Fogarty outlined the numerous public safety threats posed by Uber and TNCs, especially the 33 alleged sexual assaults against Uber drivers during the last six months. Any other business would have suffered far more serious consequences by now, he said. TNCs do not perform adequate criminal background checks, nor provide enough commercial-level insurance to protect passengers in accidents. He shared a troubling quote from Sally Kay, Uber’s head of U.S. State Affairs:
“‘If we have to comply with a fingerprint mandate, it typically adds many weeks to getting a driver on the road and making money.’"
The TNCs mostly operate outside of the regulatory framework with impunity, such as failing to pay all taxes and fees, resorting to surge pricing, creating traffic congestion, and failing to provide accessible transport to underserved communities, he added.
Fogarty underscored that while the taxi industry favors the technology of apps, TNCs must be treated as for-hire vehicle businesses subject to equal requirements for background checks, fees, inspections and vehicle insurance.
Toward that end, the TLPA has stepped up its advocacy efforts with the recent hiring of a second lobbyist in Washington, D.C., coordinated efforts with the National Limousine Association, and promoted strong public relations campaign. Another key initiative is to work with the International Road Transport Union, a European trade group that has created a Global Taxi Network (GTN) program to ensure that taxi- and for-hire related apps in Europe and Australia use only licensed for-hire vehicles. The TLPA plans to certify apps through the GTN program.
“We want to make sure this becomes a good housekeeping stamp of approval for apps that only use licensed companies,” Fogarty said.
On the public relations front, Fogarty cited a TLPA study showing a dramatic shift in the tone of Uber-related media coverage from 2012 to 2015 that points to more neutral reporting. As of December 2012, 53% of Uber-related media coverage was positive, with 47% neutral. By June of this year, 81% was neutral, 14% was negative, and 5% was positive.
“The public safety and consumer protection messages are resonating,” said Fogarty, citing coordinated public relations efforts with the NLA. The TLPA also focuses on positive stories about licensed drivers while highlighting the poor judgment and missteps of TNCs.
Fogarty urged limousine and taxi operators alike to adapt to new technologies and improve customer service. “If we do the same things, we won’t succeed. We need to embrace technology, we need to understand what customers are looking for and what’s driving customer behavior, and we need to make it easier to do business with ourselves. We can’t be defensive, or perceived as just wanting to protect our turf and unwilling to change.”
He suggested operators adopt best practices, educating themselves through LCT-NLA Show East, GCLA events and TLPA-hosted conferences and meetings. “We should share best practices in educational sessions and take these lessons back. We should change our operations and capture an expanded share of a growing market. Let’s go out and take our fair share. We deserve it.”