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Drivers demand Uber close insurance gap for cheap ride-sharing option

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UberSUV and UberBlack drivers say they want to see the same insurance rules apply to UberX drivers
Uber hears uproar from its contract drivers in Los Angeles

The string of protests against ride-sharing service Uber rolled on Tuesday, this time led by some of its drivers.

A spokesman for the Uber drivers said several hundred of them gathered outside an Uber Technologies Inc. office in Santa Monica to urge state lawmakers to back legislation to close an insurance gap within UberX, the company's cheapest option for rides.

“The way the system is currently run is not in the best interest of public safety,” said Joseph DeWolf, who co-chairs what they are calling the California App-based Drivers’ Assn. The Teamsters Local 986 union is supporting the group.

Uber's app allows people needing a ride to summon a driver and to select how fancy and how big of a car they need for the journey.

The protesters included mostly UberSUV and UberBlack drivers, who drive larger, luxury-style cars and earn more. Those more expensive offerings have driver-paid insurance policies that cover any time the cars are "on the clock," DeWolf said.

But he said that cars in UberX -- the low-cost option featuring older, smaller cars -- fall into a no-insurance loophole during the moments when a driver is working but doesn’t have a passenger in the car.

Ron Seamans Jr., a Teamsters organizer, said the union is helping drivers lobby to pass a bill that would make all classes of ride-share drivers abide by the same provisions.

The group and the insurance companies have backed AB 2293, which would require coverage during those periods. The measure, which has passed the state Assembly, is scheduled to be heard in the state Senate Insurance Committee on Wednesday.

On Tuesday afternoon, Uber in an email urged users to contact state lawmakers and ask them to vote against what it called anti-Uber legislation brought by a fearful taxi industry.

"Big Taxi and their allies in Sacramento are scared of losing out to ridesharing platforms that ultimately produce higher wages and better working conditions for drivers, and they’ll spread whatever untruths are necessary to protect their bottom lines," Uber wrote.

The company, recently valued at $18.2 billion, launched in Los Angeles in March 2012.

The drivers group and union also want Uber to create a grievance system to fight what they see as arbitrary dismissals from the system, possibly because of unfair ratings from riders.

Uber, Lyft and other ride-sharing services are being barraged on many fronts. Uber drivers have protested in other cities, including San Francisco and Seattle. And governments and taxi drivers nationwide have fought them from operating.

Seamans and DeWolf said they had no taxi drivers involved in their organizations.

Chat with me on Twitter @peard33.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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