Entrapping Drivers For Hire: Your Tax Dollars at Work in Los Angeles


From L.A. Weekly the other week, we see how cash-strapped municipalities protect the public, by screwing around with innocent people trying to provide a fair and needed service to other innocent people.

Here's what the L.A. cops did to licensed, registered, and insured limo driver Andy Chung:

Andy Chung became suspicious when he turned down Figueroa Street. He had received a call asking for a ride to Westwood. But as he approached the Hotel Figueroa, he saw that another vehicle had been pulled over by the police. He kept driving….

A few minutes later, the fare called again and asked why the cab never showed up. 

"The driver was there," Chung said. "The police were there. Are you the police?"

"I'm not the police," the man replied. "I'm a student. I need to go to Westwood."

In fact, the man was an undercover cop. Shortly after Chung circled back to the hotel, he was in handcuffs — accused of operating an illegal taxi.

Chung, 65, is a state-licensed limo driver, with valid registration and insurance. Nevertheless, he had run afoul of the byzantine licensing scheme that governs taxi services. And he was about to pay dearly for it.

At a court hearing in March, Chung refused to accept a plea bargain. He believed he had followed the rules. The judge found him guilty and sentenced him to 150 days behind bars.

And the best part? Potential customers of these service providers who use "legal" taxis pay a surcharge to help pay overtime to LAPD's finest to pull this sort of crap, and a thousand such arrests of drivers trying to deliver a service happen every year in L.A.

The legal distinction between a sinister limo and a legally protected taxicab is that limos have to have both pickup and dropoff pre-arranged, with paperwork to prove it, not just pick up anyone who needs a ride. This sort of archaic law of course helps stymie the super-efficiency-raising innovations in transportation services like Uber.

Uber, a San Francisco–based startup, allows passengers to arrange limo trips with their smartphones. The Uber app works as a booking service for state-licensed town cars. Taxi regulators in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., have alleged that Uber is actually operating as a taxi service without following local taxi ordinances.

The company does not appear to have much of a foothold yet in Los Angeles, but if it gains traction here, both the city and the franchised taxi companies are likely to raise similar concerns. 

In other words, bad law that funnels money into the city's system through fines will trump the more efficient use of vehicle and driver hours and satisfying people who need to get around for hire. Government, where would we be without you? Getting more rides, cheaper.

A great Wired article on the potential wonders of Uber.