PHILADELPHIA—Activists in Philadelphia are accusing Uber of colluding with the Democratic Party and using the Democratic National Convention to stymie efforts to regulate ride-sharing companies in the city.
On the first night of the convention, members of a coalition called Fair Ride Philly gathered in front of the DoubleTree hotel to protest the Philadelphia delegation as it returned from the day’s proceedings.
“Seventy billion dollar app! Riders get table scraps!” they shouted as delegates were led through a police barricade into the hotel.
The coalition, made up of local cab drivers, disgruntled Uber drivers, and people with disabilities, is angry with local officials and the national Democratic Party for partnering with Uber during the convention. They see it as an effort by the ride-sharing company to expand its presence in the city and subvert worker protections.
“I’m really disgusted with the Democratic national party,” Ronald Blount, the president of the Philadelphia taxi union, told Fusion. “They’re supposed to represent us working people, people who are less fortunate, people with disabilities, but it’s like they’re just rolling over for a shrimp cocktail and a ham sandwich.”
The DNC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Philadelphia’s taxi drivers and Uber have been in a protracted battle leading up to convention.
Ride-sharing companies like Uber were not legally allowed to operate in Philadelphia until a few months ago. In December 2015, Uber backed a bill in the Pennsylvania Legislature to allow ride-sharing companies to operate in Philadelphia, but it never came to a vote.
Uber and other ride-sharing companies appealed to the Philadelphia Parking Authority, which granted temporary permission for them to operate. Activists challenged the authority's power to grant permission, and won a favorable ruling from a judge.
Then, just before the Democratic National Convention, an amendment to the state budget was passed giving Uber and other ride-sharing companies permission to operate until Sept. 30.
Activists told Fusion that Uber had used the convention to pressure lawmakers and gain a foothold in Philadelphia. They argued that the DNC, by partnering with Uber, was interfering in state politics.
The coalition also claims that Uber’s presence is hurting efforts to expand taxi access to Philadelphians with disabilities.
Activists claim Uber doesn't have nearly enough cars with accommodations for people with disabilities, and that some riders with disabilities have been charged more for their rides.
A spokesman for Uber denied that riders with disabilities are being charged more. He declined to say, however, how many wheelchair-accessible cars the company operates in Philadelphia, calling it proprietary information.
The DNC has allowed Uber to set up pickup and dropoff points at the convention, funneling business to the company. Uber also offers special car services exclusive to delegates.
Inside the convention, the Democratic Party has highlighted its support for people with disabilities. Anastasia Somoza, an advocate, gave a speech blasting Donald Trump, the Republican nominee, for having mocked a reporter with a muscular disorder. Members of the Fair Ride Philly coalition said the party's embrace of Uber is at odds with its support for Americans with disabilities.
Rebecca Hamell, a member of the coalition and a person with a disability, expressed disappointment with the party.
“What [Democrats] have shown through their actions at this convention is that they can identify that really blatant kind of discrimination, but not the more subtle, structural things that prevent disabled people like from participating fully in society,” Hamell told Fusion. “It’s more than just not making fun of us. That’s a really low bar.”
The coalition also includes disgruntled former and current Uber drivers who are upset that Uber drivers do not have the same worker protections as regular taxi drivers.
Dan Saliv, a driver who used to work for Uber’s black car service, Uber Black, claims he was suspended by the company for circumventing its system of pickups and dropoffs.
He said Uber was unfair to require drivers to take fares that would have barely covered expenses, and offered no recourse to contest the fairness of the suspension.
“I went with my daughter to their office. I asked them to give me a chance, at least, to find another job, and then they deactivated me," he told Fusion.
Craig Ewer, an Uber spokesman, would not comment on that driver's case. "We have zero tolerance for any fraudulent behavior that makes it tougher for the vast majority of honest drivers to receive ride requests," he said.
At the Republican National Convention, last week in Cleveland, some Uber drivers Fusion told Fusion they were upset that the company had flooded the city with drivers, forcing driver earnings to below the equivalent of minimum wage. Uber stressed that it was providing the best fares for customers.