Uber and Lyft drivers in West Oahu say they would be disproportionately affected by a Honolulu City Council bill to more tightly regulate ride-sharing companies.

Waianae ranks among the poorest areas in the state and some of its residents work as drivers either full-time or part-time to make ends meet. 

But with proposed increased regulations such as the removal of high-demand surge charges, and a West Side councilwoman calling for a boycott of Uber and Lyft, the drivers worry that they will no longer be able to financially support their families.

Uber Application in Hawaii
Uber uses a supply and demand system that allows surge pricing, but that would be eliminated under Bill 35 at the Honolulu City Council. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Bill 35, introduced by City Councilman Ernie Martin, would add new restrictions to ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft regarding pricing, baggage fees, insurance and security.

Taxi companies like TheCab and Charley’s Taxi support the measure, while opponents say it would force ride-sharing drivers into an outdated taxi business model.

Waianae resident Kellen Smith, who works part-time as a driver for Uber and Lyft, said West Oahu drivers have seen a boost in passengers since the development of Kapolei’s new shopping mall Ka Makana Alii.

Waianae Farrington traffic1. 18 nov 2016
Heavy traffic on the Farrington Highway already complicates the lives of West Side Uber and Lyft drivers who want to serve urban Honolulu. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

A daily commute from the Leeward Coast to downtown Honolulu can take up to two hours, and working as a driver on the west side gives residents the opportunity to work closer to home.

But drivers have to cover their own gas and vehicle maintenance costs, Smith said, and more regulations “would really hurt” — especially those West Side drivers who look to serve the lucrative Waikiki market.

“I’m way out in Makaha so it’s a long drive for me to get into town where most of the action is so I don’t even know if I’m going to drive at all, if it’s going to be worth it,” Smith said.

In written testimony, a student at Waianae High School said Uber and Lyft help keep her family “financially afloat.”

“We currently make too much to qualify for financial assistance but with the cost of living we fall short,” Precious Akiona-Kawelo wrote. “With my mom working with rideshare however, she makes enough for us to not worry about if we get to have a home-cooked meal or eat canned goods.”

At a May 9 hearing, the nine-member City Council approved Bill 35 on first reading despite receiving 230 pieces of written testimony in opposition. A Budget Committee hearing is scheduled Wednesday at 9 a.m., after which the bill is likely to return to the full council.

Boycott Uber And Lyft?

At an earlier Budget Committee hearing, Uber and Lyft were criticized for their method of adjusting ride prices based on supply and demand, also known as surge pricing.

The ride-hailing companies have been criticized for surge pricing, but contend the practice gives drivers an incentive to stay on the road.

Uber has also been under fire for increasing prices during emergencies such as a hostage crisis in Australia.

On Oahu, the company was recently accused of price-gouging military service members as they returned to Pearl Harbor from deployments.

Robert Deluze, owner of AA Robert’s Taxi, said at the hearing that military members paid more than $200 to get from Pearl Harbor to Waikiki.

Honolulu City Council Kymberly Pine.
Honolulu City Councilwoman Kymberly Pine.called for a boycott of Uber and Lyft. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Councilwoman Kymberly Pine, a Navy spouse, represents the Leeward Coast. She called for a boycott of Uber and Lyft after hearing about the $200 trip.

“I urge residents and fellow service members to not use Uber or Lyft until they come up with new company policy that puts an end to the predatory pricing on military service members when they are just trying to get home after a long deployment,” Pine said in a statement issued the same day as the May 2 hearing.

Uber Operations Manager Tabitha Chow on Tuesday denied the claims of $200-plus rides and noted passengers can choose not to accept rides at higher surge prices.

“There are claims of a $221 ride and the fact is that ride never happened,” Chow said.

She said the highest-priced trip that day was $150, but the ride was 69 miles long for a group of service members traveling to different locations.

Chow said the company has seen an increase in ride-sharing users in West Oahu over the past five years.

“We truly believe in helping to serve these typically underserved communities,” Chow said. “I can probably imagine that it’s very difficult to get a taxi out in Waianae or anywhere on the west side outside of Aulani or Four Seasons, but the people who are driving are your neighbors and they’re already in your community.”

Pine declined to be interviewed, but in a statement to Civil Beat, the councilwoman said that she and the ride-sharing companies are working together on the surge pricing issue to “ensure this does not happen again.”

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