The City of Columbus Tried to Make Me a Criminal For Driving for Uber.

Published by UberHammer in the blog UberHammer's blog.

In September of 2014, the City of Columbus passed their new Peer to Peer law, known as Chapter 590 of the city's revised code. It made Columbus one of the first cities in the country to pass a law to regulate new Peer to Peer transportation networking companies (TNCs), such as Uber and Lyft. Many of those behind the passing of the new law hailed it as being progressive, forward thinking, and a model for other cities to copy and adopt.

Yet, only a year and a half later, that law became soon to be dead and unenforceable, as the State of Ohio passed a new law to eliminate the ability of any Ohio municipality to create laws to regulate TNCs like Columbus did. The short life of the Columbus law, and the effect it had, was not pretty.

Soon after the Columbus law was passed, Lyft decided to completely pull out of Columbus, stating the new city peer to peer law as THE reason for their exit, and specifically calling our the law as being "too burdensome". After the new state law passed in December 2015 that trumps the city law, Columbus City Councilman Zack Klein, who led the committee who created the city law in September 2014, said "It's concerning to me whenever Columbus is out on an island with regulation that could be excessive". But the opinions of state governments, city councils, and billion dollar companies regarding the Columbus law is not the intent of this blog. The intent of this blog is to share my anecdotal experience of this law.

I began driving for Uber shortly after the city law passed. This was right around the time Lyft pulled out of Columbus because of the law, so despite having applied to Lyft, I never did my mentor session with them, nor had the pleasure of driving for them. But to drive with Uber I had to do everything the city required in the new law. I paid them take my fingerprints. I paid them to send my prints to the FBI for a background check. I paid to get my car inspected. I paid the taxation division of the city to show the licensing division of the city I have no unpaid taxes to the city. I did everything the law required... or more specifically I paid all the payments that the law demanded for me to pay and all the other drivers to pay. I paid and paid and paid it all to the city... and after paying them a little more money they gave me my Columbus Peer to Peer license and tags for my car, which I was required to display on the right side front and rear windows, which I always did. My work for Uber was always part time. And I even decided in March to stop driving because it was hard to even make minimum wage with the market conditions. In July, things got better so I started driving part time again. It was never good money. Sometimes it was decent. Some times not. Sometimes I questioned whether it was worth what I paid to the city. Did I mention what I paid to the city for the privilege of a part time job that sometimes isn't even minimum wage?

The biggest event in Columbus is Ohio State Football. Not only did I suspect a lot of Uber demand on game days, I suspected XL request would be really high. The car I drive and have registered with the city of Columbus is an UberSelect vehicle, but not an UberXL vehicle. But, my wife and I also own a minivan, which does qualify for UberXL and is registered with Uber and active on the platform. The minivan however is not registered with the city of Columbus, so it does not have city tags on the windows. To get it tagged requires payment for inspection and payment for more tags? Do I really want to do that for what would essentially just be a few home games? What if the demand sucks because Uber has too many drivers. I don't want to pay more money for what may be a worse idea than driving New Years Eve was.... but wait a minute... I don't have to pay even more money to the city to use my minivan on OSU game days.

The city law says in section 590.03 that everyone is exempt from the entire 590 chapter except those who pick up passengers in the city. So for an Ohio State game that was kicking off at 3:30 pm, I started picking people up outside of the city limits, in smaller municipalities such as Dublin and Hilliard and driving them down to Ohio Stadium in the city. All perfectly legal. No need for my car to have Peer to Peer tags to do this. After dropping off fans on OSU's campus, I would head back up Lane Ave or Fishinger Rd through Upper Arlington (also a municipality where the Columbus city Peer to Peer law does NOT apply) and head back towards Hilliard and Dublin areas for another ping. And I was right, the majority of the requests I got were XL request. For five hours of work before kickoff I earned $200 in fares, with only a couple of them being surge fares. I was happy!

At kickoff I went to BW3 to watch the game. At half time I started to head home... but on the way home I got another fare from Dublin back down to OSU campus. Sure, why not?!? So I do it. After dropping them off I got a text that someone had left a cell phone in my car. ARGH!!!!

For those that have followed my postings, you know how I feel about lost cell phones. But what commences from this lost cell phone incident takes the cake. I pull over, put the car in park, hit the buttons on my dashboard to open my minivan doors so I can get back there to look, turn the key off, unbuckle my seatbelt... but before I could open my door to get out, two people are standing right next to my door asking me to roll down my window. They are dressed as OSU fans in the same scarlet and grey outfits everyone around them is wearing. We are near a crowded bar, and off campus housing where every other house is hosting a keg party for the game. Needless to say, my first inclination is that these two people are probably drunk given the surroundings we are in.

One of them asks me, "are you an Uber driver?" I answer "yes". He says "Where's your peer to peer license". I show him my license. He says "No. I mean where are your car tags?" I pause... and say "at home" because that's where they are... at home on my car that has tags. At this point I figure maybe this is another Uber driver giving me crap, because I know some people here in the Columbus forum say they actively do that to drivers in Columbus that aren't tagged. He starts asking more questions. He doesn't seem drunk, but I'm done talking to this guy as he has an obvious bone to pick with Uber drivers. I'm looking in front of my car to see if there is enough room to pull away without hitting him. There's not. Bummer.

Probably a good thing I didn't pull away, because all of the sudden this guy starts writing me a ticket. Yep, they are undercover police officers. He cited me for failure to have Peer to Peer tags on my car. At this point in time, I didn't know the exact law enough to argue it with the police officer. Basically all I knew is that Uber and other Uber drivers have said repeatedly it's okay to not have peer to peer license and tags as long as you're not picking up in the city. Today I can tell you it's section 590.03 that provides that exemption, but at the time the best I could say about it was "Well, Uber says it's okay". Let's just say that argument doesn't mean squat to the police on the street. The citation was written and I wasn't getting away without it.

Now, the citation he wrote me onsite said nothing about picking up a passenger. But the case he submitted to court specifically said I was picking someone up. I was livid about that accusation as he detained me for a good 10 minutes to write me the ticket, and no one ever even attempted to get in my car. So I didn't know why he said that on the court case. Turns out, he speculated that I was picking someone up because I opened the passenger doors of my minivan when I stopped. FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!!! I opened the doors so I could get back there and look for the lost cell phone. I couldn't get back there because you came up to my door and blocked me from opening it. Unfortunately, the only way to get my side of the story heard was to go through the process of pleading not guilty and let it go to trial.

But here's the kicker in this ridiculous story.... the penalty that the oh so wise and glorious city leaders placed upon the violation of not having tags on an Uber car is one step short of a felony. That's right. If you break this law you are on par with people guilty of DUI and truckers who bring hazardous cargo through the city. This is a misdemeanor of the 1st degree, punishable by 6 months in jail and $1000 fine. HOLY ####! Can anyone call this excessive? Can anyone call this too burdensome? Oh wait, that's right. That's what state and city leaders, as well as Lyft, called this ridiculous city law. People are dying because people are texting and driving. But in the state of Ohio, if you are guilty of texting and driving, it's just minor misdemeanor, punishable by NO jail time and a $150 fine. But if you don't have Peer to Peer tags? That's worse than texting and driving. Not just fourth degree misdemeanor worse (30 days jail/$250 fine), not just third degree misdemeanor worse (60 days jail/$500 fine), and not just second degree misdemeanor worse (90 days jail/$750 fine). No, this is stop just short of a felony worse, and you are viewed as evil as drunk drivers worse. Again, is the "excessive" and "too burdensome" point being made clear here???

Needless to say I had to hire a lawyer. Honestly, it's really not the penalty I was worried about, as even if I were to get falsely convicted, being a first time offender odds are slim I would have even seen a minute in jail, and the fine would probably be minimal. The bigger problem in my situation is my career in IT. In my job, I'm frequently in a position where I have to have access to sensitive data. Let's just say those who own and need to secure that data don't give access to that data to people with criminal records. A first degree misdemeanor on my record, even with a penalty of no time in jail and a minimal fine, would likely be a career ender for me. That's right, the lifestyle my wife and three kids get to live because of the work I do, would come to an end. I would have to make a career change, and I would be lucky to get a job making half of what I make now. So, hire a lawyer and fight this to the point of NO conviction was an absolute must.

Nineteen weeks this case dragged on, until finally the prosecutor dismissed the charges. They had no evidence to prove section 590.03 did not make me exempt from the entire chapter other than the police officer's speculation that I opened my doors to make a pickup. I had the evidence to prove I stopped and opened my doors to look for the cell phone. Luckily I didn't chuck that cell phone into a river and actually returned it to the Buckeye fan who left it (if he wasn't a Buckeye fan, results would vary). So I had witness for my argument that was far stronger than the prosecution's case based on pure speculation and no hard evidence.

Ultimately this is an example that our system of justice works.... IF you can afford to work the system. Which to be honest, most Uber drivers probably can't afford it. It wasn't cheap for me to hire a lawyer to fight this. Not only did my IT career enable me to afford it, I couldn't afford not to. But ultimately the reason this whole incidence cost me a significant amount is because local lawmakers wrote an excessive and too burdensome law. Would I have spent the money fighting this if the penalty was a minor misdemeanor? No. How about a fourth degree misdemeanor? Probably not. The ridiculous penalty chapter 590 has tied to it, is not only excessive and too burdensome, most Uber drivers would be pushed through the system to a guilty verdict even when they're innocent, because they can't afford legal representation. This is a perfect example of how people can be a victim of the law.

I want to give a big THANK YOU to the state of Ohio for righting this wrong the city of Columbus created. Given what I experienced, that fact that Lyft left town, and Zach Klein pointing out that Columbus's reputation has suffered from this law, it should go without saying that those who wrote this law did a disservice to the citizens of the city. Not only did we lose the benefits of the free market competition Lyft would have provided (did you notice Uber dropped rates for riders in January of 2016 in 80 cities, but not Columbus? In fact, that last Uber rate drop riders in Columbus have benefited from occurred when Lyft still operated here), but I cringe to imagine how many Uber drivers suffered from this excessive and too burdensome law because they could NOT afford to defend themselves. Shame on you who wrote this soon to be dead law (it can't be enforced any longer after March 21st, 2016). SHAME ON YOU!!!!!

Hey Lyft... please come back to Columbus. PLEASE!!!! Those bad people can't hurt you anymore.
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