Taxi vs. Uber battle intensifies across metro

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Undercover riders, dummy drivers and fare-stealing are all among the tactics and accusations deployed this week in the ongoing battle between Kansas City’s traditional cab companies and upstart ride on-demand company Uber.

An Uber driver contacted 41 Action News to report he had seen a 1010 Taxi vehicle acting as a hired Uber-X vehicle on Sunday morning, an action that, if known about, would be frowned upon by both companies.

Kansas City’s top taxi official, Bill George, whose portfolio includes both 1010 Taxi and Yellow Cab, said if such a pickup occurred it would be more of a problem for Uber than for his drivers who are independent contractors.

“If a 1010 taxi was picking up one of their trips, they don't know who the driver is. They don't know what car they're in, and they certainly don't know whose insurance policy was in effect,” George said.

George said he would not necessarily dismiss a driver who used one of 1010’s instantly recognizable blue PT cruisers to make an Uber pickup, but he would review the incident which would raise insurance concerns.

“That is one of the question that comes out there; whose insurance is covering it and who's responsible?” he asked rhetorically.

But that wasn’t the only cloak and dagger tactic the Uber driver, Dustin Kaufman, accused Kansas City taxis of using against Uber. Kaufman said in the last few weeks customers had complained of Uber drivers accepting fares using the app then never arriving to pick up passengers.

Kaufman believes there are phantom or dummy Uber drivers who may be taxi employees taking the fares then intentionally not picking them up to hurt Uber’s reputation.

“They drive around the city. They don't respond to the calls. They're just accepting calls and don't go pick them up,” Kaufman said about the dummy drivers. “You can't make money for Uber if you're not taking rides. There's no point to turn on the phone to accept rides if you're not gonna go pick them up.”

41 Action News spoke to two other Uber drivers who had not experienced similar complaints.

George denied using phantom drivers to hurt Uber, but he said there was “no love lost” between his fleet and that company.

In fact, George conducted a sting of his own. An employee of his Kansas City Transportation Group ordered six Uber rides over the course of the past weekend. George said, and surreptitiously snapped photos of drivers, there were drivers that did not have livery licenses posted, arrived in different cars or had different names and faces than those displayed on the app.

That information could become part of a future lawsuit, George said, laying out the terms of the debate.

“The city has to make an ultimate decision - either the rules apply to everyone, or they apply to no one,” he said. “It’s that simple.” 

UPDATE, 7:31 p.m., July 29: Uber representative Lauren Altmin responds.

Uber policies and the platform itself were designed to ensure users have access to the safest rides on the road. Our drivers must pass an industry-leading background check, register the vehicle they will be using on the system and adhere to stringent safety policies. Driver partners are banned from using the Uber platform if they are found to be in violation of any of those policies.

One of the most innovative features of the Uber app is the real-time feedback loop. Feedback about our partners means Uber can correct for issues big and small – while ensuring that only the best drivers stay on the road. We take this feedback seriously - depending on the circumstances, rider feedback may lead to deactivating a partner from the system or serve as validation that the driver is providing great service.

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