TRENTON – After all-day pushing and shoving between union taxi cab drivers and non-union drivers, the Assembly Transportation Committee this afternoon passed a thorny labor-backed bill aimed at protecting the safety of passengers who use Uber Technologies and similar ride-sharing services.
The final vote – cast along party lines – was 7-3-1. All the Democrats on the committee voted for, the Republicans opposed it, and Assemblywoman Betty Lou DeCroce (R-26) abstained.
“We have a duty to ensure that everyone who travels on our roads can do so safely, regardless of the type of car service they may choose,” said Assemblyman Joe Lagana (D-38), Paramus, whose prime sponsorship of A-3765 made him a weekend mail dump target of the taxi company.
Lagana’s bill establishes insurance and safety requirements for companies that use digital network or software application to match passengers with drivers, deemed invasive by the company, whose drivers today rallied today at the Statehouse.
“Companies like Uber and Lyft certainly can make life more convenient for people who may not have access to personal vehicles of their own, but we have to make safety the top priority,” said Assemblyman Troy Singleton (D-7), who co-sponsored the bill. “This legislation is about establishing a sense of accountability so that both passengers and drivers stay safe on the roads.”
PolitickerNJ asked Singleton if he decided to make Uber’s life difficult after the company went after him.
“We were less inclined to acquiesce on points that could have gone either way,” Singleton said of himself and Lagana.
Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman John Wisniewski (D-19) applauded the legislation.
“After observing the problems associated with unsafe jitney buses, particularly in some North Jersey areas, we would be remiss not to make sure that ride-sharing companies meet basic standards,” said the assemblyman. “Requiring adequate insurance coverage and licensing and criminal background checks is not too much to ask as we work to ensure the safety of New Jersey residents.”
Uber released a statement in response to the bill’s passage.
“While we are disappointed the bill narrowly passed the committee, we will continue to make sure the voices of our over 5,000 Jersey Uber driver partners and over 100,000 Jersey riders are heard.”
The bill would:
- Require the driver license record check and safety inspection a transportation network company (TNC) must conduct be approved by the MVC.
- Have the MVC issue an identifying marker to every TNC driver, to display whenever the vehicle is logged into a TNC application or digital network.
- Require driver’s to be 21 years of age or older.
- Prohibit a person from becoming a TNC driver for three years following a conviction of DUI, driving while suspended, or reckless driving, and to permanently prohibit a person from becoming a TNC driver if they have more than more conviction of these three offenses.
- Require the TNC to conduct a search of the Department of Justice’s National Sex Offender Public Website and prohibit any person on the website from being a TNC driver.
- Require the Department of Labor and Workforce Development to determine if TNC drivers are considered employees or independent contractors.
- Require the TNC to ensure the required insurance coverage is in place whenever a TNC driver provides transportation to a passenger.
- Allow that the insurance requirements provided in the bill be satisfied by: an insurance policy obtained by the transportation network company, and insurance policy, rider, or endorsement obtained by the TNC driver; or any combination of the two provided that any policy, rider, or endorsement issued to a TNC driver be placed on file with the TNC.
- Reduce the amount of required insurance coverage required when a passenger is not in the vehicle to $150,000 from $250,000 per incident for liability, property damage, and uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage.
- Specify that the insurance coverage required by the bill is not dependent on a private passenger automobile insurance company first denying a claim before the insurance coverage required by the bill is to be in effect.
- Allow an eligible surplus lines insurer to provide the insurance policies required in the bill.
- Impose a 10 cent fee on a TNC each time a TNC receives payment from a passenger on a TNC’s digital software application provided that the service takes place in NJ. The revenue generated is to be deposited into a “Transportation Network Company Fund” and appropriated to defray the commission’s administrative expenses in connection with implementation of the bill’s provisions.
- Require all TNC driver’s to have background checks completed with State Police fingerprinting.
- Exempt individuals arranging transportation for non-emergency medical transportation for individuals qualifying for Medicaid, Medicare, or workers compensation pursuant to a contract with the State or managed care organization.
- Impose a zero tolerance drug and alcohol policy by all TNC’s and to publish policy on their website, digital network, or application.
- Require clear displays of the estimated fare to be assessed, including surge pricing based on demand for TNC drivers in a certain location to a passenger or potential passenger on the digital network or application prior to the passenger entering the TNC vehicle.
Also under the bill, the moment a transportation network driver logs on to the transportation network company’s software application until the moment the transportation network driver accepts a request to transport a passenger, or logs off the digital network or software application, whichever is later: the transportation network company must provide coverage in an amount of not less than $150,000 per incident involving a transportation network vehicle for liability, property damage, and uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage, and medical payments coverage in an amount not less than $10,000 per person per incident involving a transportation network vehicle.
The transportation network company would be required to maintain records for at least two years of each transportation network trip, the date, time, duration, locations, mileage, and the driver’s personal insurance.
Violations of this bill and any regulations adopted would be $1,000 fine for the first offense, and $5,000 for each subsequent offense.
The bill, which was recommitted for amendments, was advanced by the Assembly Transportation and Independent Authorities Committee, of which Wisniewski is chair.
Nicole Benincasa, who heads up the policy division for Uber, expressed dismay in her testimony before the committee.
“We have been advocating for – and continue to advocate for – the State to put into place a separate regulatory framework for this new and innovative transportation option,” she said. “However, we are disappointed that current Assembly Bill 3765 would protect the status quo and threaten to drive us out of the state.”