Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Yellow cabs lose due process challenge to Uber rules

This equal protection case reminds us that the Equal Protection Clause does not quite mean what it says. It says all people must be treated equally by the government, but the government actually has leeway in regulating people and industries differently, so long as those distinctions are not irrational as a matter of law.

The case is Progressive Credit Union v. City of New York, decided on May 1. The yellow cab taxi industry brings this case, alleging that the City's regulations governing the yellow taxis and "for-hire vehicles" like Uber are unconstitutional. The Second Circuit upholds the regulations, which divide the transportation industry into two groups. The medallion taxicabs must comply with certain rules, such as vehicle color, overhead lights, a partition between the driver and the passenger and a certain fare/rate structure. The Uber cars are not subject to these regulations. Is that fair? Maybe, or maybe not. Is it legal? Yes, because the yellow cabs and the Uber cars are not "similarly-situated," meaning the government can treat them differently.

The Court of Appeals (Jacobs, Sack and Parker) details how the yellow cabs differ from the Uber cars. You hail yellow cabs on the street, and they have to pick you up. Uber cars are hailed electronically, such as through a smart phone. These differences explain the regulatory distinctions. The safety features in yellow cabs promote driver safety when the customers have no prior relationship with the company. The safety and color rules governing street cabs also promote easy identification and convenience for people who hail the cab on the street.

The yellow cab plaintiffs say the Uber rules are more favorable. What it all means is that the City does not have extend its Uber regulations to the yellow cabs. But since these two industries are not really comparable, there is no equal protection violation. The yellow cab plaintiffs lose the case.

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