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Opinion

Readers React: Blowback: Taxi and rideshare drivers desperately need revenue from rooftop ads

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Taxis line up for fares at Los Angeles International Airport in 2016.
(Los Angeles Times)

It is no secret that the challenges faced by taxi drivers in Los Angeles and other major cities are severe, and only worsening with the ever-rising cost of living. What is unique to Los Angeles, however, is the response to this crisis by some of the city’s elected officials. (“Digital billboards on top of rideshare vehicles? No thanks,” editorial, May 15)

While officials in New York, Washington, Chicago, and others have responded to similar situations with a focus on equity, embracing the added driver income opportunity provided by digital taxi-top advertising, some city leaders in Los Angeles stand alone.

The L.A. City Council is considering a new policy to criminalize advertising on taxis and rideshare vehicles — even the decades-old practice of static rooftop taxi ads — going so far as to threaten drivers’ vehicles with impounding. This is especially unsettling given the impending massive, multi-year renovation plan for LAX, a project poised to significantly disrupt operations for taxi drivers, throwing another wrench in their efforts to make a living. It is not an exaggeration to suggest that this latest disruption could be one of the final straws for the city’s taxi industry.

Is digital rooftop advertising a magic solution to every problem taxi drivers face? Of course not.

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But an extra $3,600 a year, without the need for added drive time, would ease the strain on these hard-working people — many of whom are first-generation immigrants. The extra income could be put toward basic necessities — food, gas, car insurance — while for some, it could mean the difference between financial security and hardship.

Our team’s goal has always been to work alongside our driver partners, our communities and city leaders to foster smart city growth nationwide. We have taken many steps to ensure we’re meeting all applicable city and state regulations, while improving thousands of drivers’ lives. The City Council has an opportunity to support innovation for taxis and advocate for economic opportunity.

We believe that all full-time drivers should be able to make a living wage and support their families, and we look forward to collaborating with city leaders to build a more equitable future.

Kaan Gunay is CEO and co-founder of Firefly, a digital media company.

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