position:driver

  • Revolt of the gig workers: How delivery rage reached a tipping point - SFChronicle.com
    https://www.sfchronicle.com/business/article/Revolt-of-the-gig-workers-How-delivery-rage-13605726.php

    Gig workers are fighting back.

    By their name, you might think independent contractors are a motley crew — geographically scattered, with erratic paychecks and tattered safety nets. They report to faceless software subroutines rather than human bosses. Most gig workers toil alone as they ferry passengers, deliver food and perform errands.

    But in recent weeks, some of these app-wielding workers have joined forces to effect changes by the multibillion-dollar companies and powerful algorithms that control their working conditions.

    Last week, Instacart shoppers wrung payment concessions from the grocery delivery company, which had been using customer tips to subsidize what it paid them. After outcries by workers on social media, in news reports and through online petitions, San Francisco’s Instacart said it had been “misguided.” It now adds tips on top of its base pay — as most customers and shoppers thought they should be — and will retroactively compensate workers who were stiffed on tips.

    New York this year became the first U.S. city to implement a minimum wage for Uber and Lyft, which now must pay drivers at least $17.22 an hour after expenses ($26.51 before expenses). Lyft, which sued over the requirement, last week gave in to driver pressure to implement it.

    For two years, drivers held rallies, released research, sent thousands of letters and calls to city officials, and gathered 16,000 petition signature among themselves. The Independent Drivers Guild, a union-affiliated group that represents New York ride-hail drivers and spearheaded the campaign, predicted per-driver pay boosts of up to $9,600 a year.

    That follows some other hard-fought worker crusades, such as when they persuaded Uber to finally add tipping to its app in 2017, a move triggered by several phenomena: a string of corporate scandals, the fact that rival Lyft had offered tipping from the get-go, and a class-action lawsuit seeking employment status for workers.

    “We’ll probably start to see more gig workers organizing as they realize that enough negative publicity for the companies can make something change,” said Alexandrea Ravenelle, an assistant sociology professor at New York’s Mercy College and author of “Hustle and Gig: Struggling and Surviving in the Sharing Economy.” “But companies will keep trying to push the envelope to pay workers as little as possible.”

    The current political climate, with tech giants such as Facebook and Google on hot seats over privacy, abuse of customer data and other issues, has helped the workers’ quests.

    “We’re at a moment of reckoning for tech companies,” said Alex Rosenblat, a technology ethnographer at New York’s Data & Society Research Institute and author of “Uberland: How Algorithms Are Rewriting the Rules of Work.” “There’s a techlash, a broader understanding that tech companies have to be held accountable as political institutions rather than neutral forces for good.”

    The climate also includes more consumer awareness of labor issues in the on-demand economy. “People are realizing that you don’t just jump in an Uber and don’t have to think about who’s driving you and what they make,” Ravenelle said. “There’s a lot more attention to gig workers’ plight.”

    Instacart customers were dismayed to discover that their tips were not going to workers on top of their pay as a reward for good service.

    Sage Wilson, a spokesman for Working Washington, a labor-backed group that helped with the Instacart shoppers’ campaign, said many more gig workers have emerged with stories of similar experiences on other apps.

    “Pay transparency really seems to be an issue across many of these platforms,” he said. “I almost wonder if it’s part of the reason why these companies are building black box algorithmic pay models in the first place (so) you might not even know right away if you got a pay cut until you start seeing the weekly totals trending down.”

    Cases in point: DoorDash and Amazon also rifle the tip jar to subsidize contractors’ base pay, as Instacart did. DoorDash defended this, saying its pay model “provides transparency, consistency, and predictability” and has increased both satisfaction and retention of its “Dashers.”

    But Kristen Anderson of Concord, a social worker who works part-time for DoorDash to help with student loans, said that was not her experience. Her pay dropped dramatically after DoorDash started appropriating tips in 2017, she said. “Originally it was worth my time and now it’s not,” she said. “It’s frustrating.”

    Debi LaBell of San Carlos, who does weekend work for Instacart on top of a full-time job, has organized with others online over the tips issue.

    “This has been a maddening, frustrating and, at times, incredibly disheartening experience,” said Debi LaBell of San Carlos, who does weekend work for Instacart on top of a full-time job. “When I first started doing Instacart, I loved getting in my car to head to my first shop. These past few months, it has taken everything that I have to get motivated enough to do my shift.”

    Before each shopping trip, she hand-wrote notes to all her customers explaining the tips issue. She and other shoppers congregated online both to vent and to organize.

    Her hope now is that Instacart will invite shoppers like her to hear their experiences and ideas.

    There’s poetic justice in the fact that the same internet that allows gig companies to create widely dispersed marketplaces provided gig workers space to find solidarity with one another.

    “It’s like the internet taketh and giveth,” said Eric Lloyd, an attorney at the law firm Seyfarth Shaw, which represents management, including some gig companies he wouldn’t name, in labor cases. “The internet gave rise to this whole new economy, giving businesses a way to build really innovative models, and it’s given workers new ways to advance their rights.”

    For California gig workers, even more changes are on the horizon in the wake of a ground-breaking California Supreme Court decision last April that redefined when to classify workers as employees versus independent contractors.

    Gig companies, labor leaders and lawmakers are holding meetings in Sacramento to thrash out legislative responses to the Dynamex decision. Options could range from more workers getting employment status to gig companies offering flexible benefits. Whatever happens, it’s sure to upend the status quo.

    Rather than piecemeal enforcement through litigation, arbitration and various government agencies such as unemployment agencies, it makes sense to come up with overall standards, Rosenblat said.

    “There’s a big need for comprehensive standards with an understanding of all the trade-offs,” she said. “We’re at a tipping point for change.”

    Carolyn Said is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: csaid@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @csaid

    #USA #Kalifornien #Gig-Economy #Ausbeutung

  • Connecticut legislators to consider minimum pay for Uber and Lyft drivers - Connecticut Post
    https://www.ctpost.com/politics/article/Connecticut-legislators-to-consider-minimum-pay-13608071.php

    By Emilie Munson, February 11, 2019 - Prompted by growing numbers of frustrated Uber and Lyft drivers, lawmakers will hold a hearing on establishing minimum pay for app-based drivers.

    After three separate legislative proposals regarding pay for drivers flooded the Labor and Public Employees Committee, the committee will raise the concept of driver earnings as a bill, said state Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, who chairs the committee, on Friday night.

    A coalition of Uber and Lyft drivers from New Haven has been pressuring lawmakers to pass a pay standard, following New York City’s landmark minimum pay ordinance for app-based drivers approved in December. The legislation, which set an earnings floor of $17.22 an hour for the independent contractors, took effect on Feb. 1.

    Connecticut drivers have no minimum pay guarantees.

    Guillermo Estrella, who drives for Uber, worked about 60 hours per week last year and received $25,422.65 in gross pay. His pay stub doesn’t reflect how much Estrella paid for insurance, gas, oil changes and wear-and-tear on his car. Factor those expenses in, and the Branford resident said his yearly take-home earnings were about $18,000 last year.

    Estrella and other New Haven drivers have suggested bill language to cap the portion of riders’ fares that Uber and Lyft can take at 25 percent, with the remaining 75 percent heading to drivers’ pockets. The idea has already received pushback from Uber, which said it was unrealistic given their current pay structure.

    Connecticut legislators have suggested two other models for regulating driver pay. State Sen. Steve Cassano, D-Manchester, filed a bill to set a minimum pay rate per mile and per minute for drivers. His bill has not assigned numbers to those minimums yet.

    “What (drivers) were making when Uber started and got its name, they are not making that anymore,” said Cassano. “The company is taking advantage of the success of the company. I understand that to a point, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of the drivers.”

    State Rep. Peter Tercyak, D-New Britain, proposed legislation that says if drivers’ earnings do not amount to hourly minimum wage payments, Uber or Lyft should have to kick in the difference. Connecticut’s minimum wage is now $10.10, although Democrats are making a strong push this year to raise it.

    As lawmakers consider these proposals, they will confront issues raised by the growing “gig economy”: a clash between companies seeking thousands of flexible, independent contractors and a workforce that wants the benefits and rights of traditional, paid employment.

    Some Democrats at the Capitol support the changes that favor drivers.

    “I thought it was important to make sure our labor laws are keeping up with the changes we are seeing in this emerging gig economy, that we have sufficient safeguards to make sure that drivers are not being exploited,” said Sen. Matt Lesser, D-Middletown.

    But the proposals also raise broad, difficult questions like what protections does a large independent contractor workforce need? And how would constraining the business model of Uber and Lyft impact service availability around the state?

    Sen. Craig Miner, a Republican of Litchfield who sits on the Labor committee, wondered why Uber and Lyft drivers should have guaranteed pay, when other independent contractors do not. How would this impact the tax benefits realized by independent contractors, he asked.

    Uber and Lyft declined to provide data on how many drivers they have in the state, and the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles does not keep count. In Connecticut, 82 percent of Lyft drivers drive fewer than 20 hours per week, said Kaelan Richards, a Lyft spokesperson.

    Last week, Hearst Connecticut Media spoke to 20 Uber and Lyft drivers in New Haven who are demanding lawmakers protect their pay. All drove full-time for Uber or Lyft or both.

    An immigrant from Ecuador, Estrella, the Branford driver, struggles to pay for rent and groceries for his pregnant wife and seven-year-old son using his Uber wages.

    “A cup of coffee at the local Starbucks cost $3 or $4,” said Estrella. “How can a trip can cost $3 when you have to drive to them five minutes away and drop them off after seven or eight minutes?”

    In December, 50 Uber and Lyft drivers held a strike in New Haven demanding better pay. The New Haven drivers last week said they are planning more strikes soon.

    “Why is Uber lowering the rates and why do we have to say yes to keep working?” asked Carlos Gomez, a Guilford Uber driver, last week.

    The drivers believe Uber and Lyft are decreasing driver pay and taking a larger chunk of rider fares for company profits. Many New Haven drivers said pay per mile has been decreasing. They liked Sen. Cassano’s idea of setting minimum pay per mile and per minute.

    “The payment by mile, it went down by 10 cents,” said Rosanna Olan, a driver from West Haven. “Before it was more than one dollar and now when you have a big truck SUV, working long distance especially is not worth it anymore.”

    Uber and Lyft both declined to provide pay rates per mile and per minute for drivers. Drivers are not paid for time spent driving to pick up a passenger, nor for time spent idling waiting for a ride, although the companies’ model depends on having drivers ready to pick up passengers at any moment.

    Lyft said nationally drivers earn an average of $18.83 an hour, but did not provide Connecticut specific earnings.

    “Our goal has always been to empower drivers to get the most out of Lyft, and we look forward to continBy Emilie Munson Updated 4:49 pm EST, Monday, February 11, 2019uing to do so in Connecticut, and across the country," said Rich Power, public policy manager at Lyft.

    Uber discouraged lawmakers from considering the drivers’ proposal of capping the transportation companies’ cut of rider fares. Uber spokesman Harry Hartfield said the idea wouldn’t work because Uber no longer uses the “commission model” — that stopped about two years ago.

    “In order to make sure we can provide customers with an up-front price, driver fares are not tied to what the rider pays,” said Hartfield. “In fact, on many trips drivers actually make more money than the rider pays.”

    What the rider is pays to Uber is an estimated price, calculated before the ride starts, Hartfield explained, while the driver receives from Uber a fare that is calculated based on actual drive time and distance. Changing the model could make it hard to give customers up-front pricing and “lead to reduced price transparency,” Hartfield said. New York’s changes raised rates for riders.

    James Bhandary-Alexander, a New Haven Legal Assistance attorney who is working with the drivers, said Uber’s current pay model is “irrelevant to how drivers want to be paid for the work.”

    “The reason that drivers care is it seems fundamentally unfair that the rider is willing to pay or has paid $100 for the ride and the driver has only gotten $30 or $40 of that,” he said.

    Pursuing any of the three driver-pay proposals would bring Uber and Lyft lobbyists back to the Capitol, where they negotiated legislation spearheaded by Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, from 2015 to 2017.

    Scanlon said the companies eventually favored the bill passed in 2017, which, after some compromise, required drivers have insurance, limited “surge pricing,” mandated background checks for drivers, imposed a 25 cent tax collected by the state and stated passengers must be picked up and delivered anywhere without discrimination.

    “One of my biggest regrets about that bill, which I think is really good for consumers in Connecticut, is that we didn’t do anything to try to help the driver,” said Scanlon, who briefly drove for Uber.
    By Emilie Munson Updated 4:49 pm EST, Monday, February 11, 2019
    emunson@hearstmediact.com; Twitter: @emiliemunson

    #USA #Uber #Connecticut #Mindestlohn #Klassenkampf

  • Fair for Uber: Cars with unlimited mileage
    https://www.fair.com/uber/cars


    So stellen die sich das vor:

    1. Join Uber
    If you’re new to Uber, sign up to be an Uber driver-partner on the Uber app. If you’re already an Uber driver-partner, just download the Fair app.
    2. Get Fair
    Reserve a car for $185/week* plus taxes and a $185 refundable security deposit***. When you pick it up, you can choose from a variety of makes and models.
    3. Earn Rewards
    Complete 70 trips in a week, earn $185 in rewards from Uber. That can cover your weekly car payment to Fair. If you complete 120 trips, get a $305 reward**.

    Rideshare-ready cars include: Fair Insurance, Unlimited Miles, Roadside Assistance, Vehicle Registration, Routine Maintenance, Vehicle Warranty

    Meet our happy drivers.
    “I just look at my phone and I have everything to take care of this car and take care of me.”
    – Matt

    Get a car
    *Tax not included. Only available in California. To get a car with this offer, must be 21+ in age and been approved to drive with Uber.

    **Special Uber offer applies to driver partners using Fair cars priced at $185/week (plus tax). Complete 70 trips with Uber each week to receive a $185 reward each week from Uber in your driver account. Complete 120 trips with Uber each week to receive a $305 reward from Uber for the week. Rewards cannot be combined and you are eligible only for the maximum reward offered based on the total number of trips you complete. Payout from Uber will be reflected in your earnings statement on Thursdays. Canceled trips do not count toward the trip threshold. Trip requirements and the promotion payment are prorated based on when your Fair agreement begins. Starting the Monday following the date your rental agreement begins, you will receive the full week incentive. Uber reserves the right to withhold payment in the event of suspected fraud or abuse. Uber driver partners are still responsible to make weekly car payments to Fair. Drivers in Fair vehicles qualify for trip surge areas, but except as specified above may not qualify to participate in other promotional offers such as Boost Consecutive Trips, or Quest promotions. Offer subject to change or withdrawal at any time. For details click here. Note rewards amounts do not cover taxes. Uber is not responsible for the products or services offered by other companies, including Fair, or for the terms and conditions (including financial terms) under which those products and services are offered.

    ***To get a Fair Vehicle, your only required payment is a $185 refundable security deposit plus the first weekly payment of $185 (plus tax). You can return the Fair Vehicle by the end of the 7- day period if you do not want to extend your use. If you do not return the car by the end of the 7- day period, it will auto-renew for another 7 days and we will charge you upfront the weekly payment of $185 plus tax. The minimum use period is 7 days, including for any renewal, and the weekly payment will not be prorated for returns made before the end of any 7-day period.

    Terms and Conditions.

    Get a car with Fair and earn a weekly reward from Uber of $185 when you complete 70 trips in a week and $305 for 120 trips in a week when you drive with Uber. With 70 trips, you can earn the amount of your $185 weekly payment. Please note rewards amounts do not cover taxes.

    Only available in California. To get a car, must be 21+ in age and been approved to drive with Uber. Special offer applies to Fair cars priced at $185/week (plus tax). Complete 70 trips with Uber each week to receive a $185 credit from Uber in your driver account. Complete 120 trips with Uber each week to receive a $305 credit from Uber for the week. Uber driver partners are still responsible to make weekly car payments to Fair. Offer subject to change or withdrawal at any time. For details click here. You can use the reward provided by Uber to help you offset the weekly cost of your Fair car. The $185 and $305 rewards are limited only to those drivers with Fair vehicles who are driving with Uber.

    Please note the $185 and $305 rewards are provided by Uber and Fair is not responsible for the payment of Uber incentives or for the terms and conditions under which those incentives are offered. You must have all licenses, permits and other governmental or other approvals required to drive on the Uber platform.

    See Uber Terms and Conditions below for details.

    Uber Terms and Conditions

    Rewards are paid by Uber, and payouts will appear on your weekly pay statements. With participation in this reward program, you will no longer be eligible for Boost and Quest.

    On any given week during this rewards period, you are only eligible for the maximum reward offered in your city based on the number of trips you complete.
    Canceled trips don’t count towards your completed trips.
    Trip requirements and the rewards payment is prorated based on when your Fair agreement begins.
    Starting the Monday following the date after your Fair agreement begins, you’ll receive the full week reward as long as you meet the trip requirements. Uber reserves the right to withhold payment in the event of suspected fraud or abuse.
    The terms of this reward are subject to change and may be withdrawn at any time.

    #USA #Kalinornien #Uber #Mietwagen

  • Federal judge rules Uber calling its drivers independent contractors may violate antitrust and harm competition / Boing Boing
    https://boingboing.net/2019/06/21/labor-uber.html

    A federal judge has ruled that alleged misclassification of drivers as independent contractors by the ride-hailing service app Uber could harm competition and violate the spirit of America’s antitrust laws.

    • Lawsuit says misclassifying workers creates competitive harm
    • 30 days to amend complaint with new information

    The ruling by Judge Edward Chen of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California is not a final decision in the case, but is a “significant warning to ride-hailing companies,” Bloomberg News reports.

    “It signals how a 2018 California Supreme Court case and future worker classification laws could open the floodgates to worker misclassification and antitrust claims.”

    Uber’s Worker Business Model May Harm Competition, Judge Says
    https://news.bloomberglaw.com/daily-labor-report/ubers-worker-business-model-may-harm-competition-judge-says

    Uber’s Worker Business Model May Harm Competition, Judge Says
    Posted June 21, 2019
    Suit: Misclassifying workers produces competitive harm
    Complaint must be amended within 30 days with new information
    Uber‘s alleged misclassification of drivers as independent contractors could significantly harm competition and violate the spirit of antitrust laws, a federal judge ruled.

    The ruling, although not a final decision in the case, is a significant warning to ride-hailing companies. It signals how a 2018 California Supreme Court case and future worker classification laws could open the floodgates to worker misclassification and antitrust claims.

    Judge Edward Chen of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California declined to dismiss all of the claims brought against Uber by Los Angeles-based transportation service Diva Limousine, saying the company established a causal link between Uber’s behavior and real economic harm being felt by competitors.

    Driver misclassification could save Uber as much as $500 million annually just in California, according to Diva’s lawyers.

    “Diva’s allegations support the inference that Uber could not have undercut market prices to the same degree without misclassifying its drivers to skirt significant costs,” the judge wrote in the June 20 ruling.

    Unlike employees, independent contractors aren’t entitled to benefits such as health care, unemployment insurance, minimum wages, and overtime.

    An attorney for Diva said he was pleased with the court’s decision and that it was a warning that the company couldn’t skirt California labor laws.

    “There’s an acknowledgement here that Uber not only harms its drivers but also that its conduct crosses the line from robust competition to unfair competition,” said attorney Aaron Sheanin of Robins Kaplan LLP. “And that injures its competitiors, including Diva.”

    Uber didn’t return a request for comment.

    Overall, Uber was only able to get part of Diva’s complaint fully dismissed—specifically, its claims under the state’s Unfair Practices Act. Diva’s claims under the California Unfair Competition Law can proceed once it amends its complaint to address jurisdictional issues and other legal arguments.

    Diva’s lawyers have 30 days to refile an updated complaint which is likely to move forward given the judge’s ruling that the claims have merit.

    The ruling was based in part from language drawn from the California Supreme Court’s April 2018 ruling in Dynamex Operations West Inc. v. Superior Court. That decision made it harder for California employers to classify workers as independent contractors rather than employees. It also condemns misclassification as a type of unfair competition.

    Uber identified Dynamex in regulatory filings as a long-term potential risk factor for its business success.

    The case is Diva Limousine, Ltd. v. Uber Technologies, Inc., N.D. Cal., No. 3:18-cv-05546, Order Issued 6/20/19.

    #USA #Uber #Wettbewerb #Monopol #Urteil #Justiz

  • Sikh drivers are transforming U.S. trucking. Take a ride along the Punjabi American highway - Los Angeles Times
    https://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-col1-sikh-truckers-20190627-htmlstory.html

    By Jaweed Kaleem, Jun 27, 2019 -
    It’s 7:20 p.m. when he rolls into Spicy Bite, one of the newest restaurants here in rural northwest New Mexico. Locals in Milan, a town of 3,321, have barely heard of it.

    https://www.trbimg.com/img-5d12f8d2/turbine/la-1561524431-z6kcx6gnzm-snap-image
    Punjabi-operated truck stops

    The building is small, single-story, built of corrugated metal sheets. There are seats for 20. The only advertising is spray-painted on concrete roadblocks in English and Punjabi. Next door is a diner and gas station; the county jail is across the road.

    Palwinder Singh orders creamy black lentils, chicken curry and roti, finishing it off with chai and cardamom rice pudding. After 13 hours on and off the road in his semi truck, he leans back in a booth as a Bollywood music video plays on TV.

    “This is like home,” says Pal, the name he uses on the road (said like “Paul”).

    There are 3.5 million truckers in the United States. California has 138,000, the second-most after Texas. Nearly half of those in California are immigrants, most from Mexico or Central America. But as drivers age toward retirement — the average American trucker is 55 — and a shortage grows, Sikh immigrants and their kids are increasingly taking up the job.

    Estimates of the number of Sikh truckers vary. In California alone, tens of thousands of truckers trace their heritage to India. The state is home to half of the Sikhs in the U.S. — members of a monotheistic faith with origins in 15th century India whose followers are best recognized by the uncut hair and turbans many men wear. At Sikh temples in Sacramento, Fresno, Bakersfield and Riverside, the majority of worshipers are truck drivers and their families.

    Over the last decade, Indian Americans have launched trucking schools, truck companies, truck washes, trucker temples and no-frills Indian restaurants modeled after truck stops back home, where Sikhs from the state of Punjab dominate the industry.

    “You used to see a guy with a turban and you would get excited,” says Pal, who is in his 15th year of trucking. “Today, you go to some stops and can convince yourself you are in India.”

    Three interstates — the I-5, I-80 and I-10 — are dotted with Indian-American-owned businesses catering to truckers. They start to appear as you drive east from Los Angeles, Reno and Phoenix, and often have the words “Bombay,” “Indian” or “Punjabi” on their storefront signs. But many, with names like Jay Bros (in Overton, Neb.) and Antelope Truck Stop Pronghorn (in Burns, Wyo.) are anonymous dots on a map unless you’re one of the many Sikhs who have memorized them as a road map to America.

    The best-known are along Interstate 40, which stretches from Barstow to North Carolina. The road, much of it alongside Historic Route 66, forms the backbone of the Sikh trucking world.

    It’s a route that Pal, 38, knows well. Three times a month, he makes the seven-day round trip between his Fontana home and Indiana, where he drops off loads and picks up new ones. Over his career, he’s driven 2 million miles and transported items as varied as frozen chickens and paper plates. These days, he mostly hauls chocolate, rice and fruits and vegetables from California farms. Today, it’s 103 containers of mixed produce, with mangoes, bell peppers, watermelons, yellow onions and peeled garlic among them. All are bound for a Kroger warehouse outside Indianapolis.

    Across the street from Spicy Bite, dozens of arriving drivers form a temporary village of 18-wheelers in a vast parking lot by the interstate. Most are white. Nearly all are men. More are older than younger.

    But every now and then there are Sikhs like Pal, with long salt-and-pepper beards, colorful turbans and thick Indian accents. They head straight toward Spicy Bite.

    Lines can form out the door at the restaurant, which opened two years ago outside the Petro Stopping Center, a longtime mainstay for truckers headed east.

    Pal makes a point to stop by the restaurant — even just for a “hello” — when he sleeps next door. The Sikh greeting is “Sat sri akaal.” It means “God is truth.” In trucking, where turnover is high, business uncertain and risk of accidents ever present, each day can feel like a leap of faith and an opportunity to give thanks.

    Punjabi Americans first appeared on the U.S. trucking scene in the 1980s after an anti-Sikh massacre in India left thousands dead around New Delhi, prompting many Sikhs to flee. More recently, Sikhs have migrated to Central America and applied for asylum at the Mexico border, citing persecution for their religion in India; some have also become truckers. Estimates of the overall U.S. Sikh population vary, placing the community’s size between 200,000 and 500,000.

    In recent years, corporations have pleaded for new truckers. Walmart kicked up salaries to attract drivers. Last year, the government announced a pilot program to lower the age for driving trucks from 21 to 18 for those with truck-driving training in the military. According to the American Trucking Assn., the trucker shortage could reach 100,000 within years.

    “Punjabis are filling the gap,” says Raman Dhillon, a former driver who last year founded the North American Punjabi Trucking Assn. The Fresno-based group advises drivers on regulations, offers insurance and tire discounts, and runs a magazine: Punjabi Trucking.

    Like trucking itself, where the threat of automation and the long hours away from home have made it hard to recruit drivers, the Punjabi trucking life isn’t always an easy sell. Three years ago, a group of Sikh truckers in California won a settlement from a national shipping company after saying it discriminated against their faith. The drivers, who followed Sikh traditions by wrapping their uncut hair in turbans, said bosses asked them to remove the turbans before providing hair and urine samples for pre-employment drug tests despite being told of the religious observance. The same year, police charged a man with vandalizing a semi truck at a Sikh temple in Buena Park. He’d scribbled the word “ISIS.”

    Still, Hindi- and Punjabi-language newspapers in the Eastern U.S. regularly run ads promising better wages, a more relaxed lifestyle and warm weather as a trucker out West. Talk to any group of Sikh drivers and you’ll find former cabbies, liquor store workers or convenience store cashiers who made the switch.

    How a rural Oklahoma truck stop became a destination for Sikh Punjabis crossing America »

    “Thirty years ago, it was hard to get into trucking because there were so few people like us in the business who could help you,” says Rashpal Dhindsa, a former trucker who runs Fontana-based Dhindsa Group of Companies, one of the oldest Sikh-owned U.S. trucking companies. When Pal first started, Dhindsa — now a close friend but then an acquaintance — gave him a $1,000 loan to cover training classes.

    It’s 6:36 a.m. the next day when the Petro Stopping Center switches from quiet darkness to rumbling engines. Pal flips on the headlights of his truck, a silver ’16 Volvo with a 500-horsepower engine. Inside the rig, he heats aloo gobi — spiced potatoes and cauliflower — that his wife prepared back home. He checks the thermostat to make sure his trailer isn’t too warm. He takes out a book wrapped in a blue cotton cloth that’s tucked by his driver’s seat, sits on a bed-turned-couch and reads a prayer in Punjabi for safety on the journey: There is only one God. Truth is His name…. You always protect us.

    He pulls east onto the highway as the sun rises.

    Truckers either drive in pairs or solo like Pal. Either way, it’s a quiet, lonely world.

    Still, Pal sees more of America in a week than some people will in their lives. Rolling California hills, spiky desert rock formations, the snow-dusted evergreens of northern Arizona, the fuzzy cacti in New Mexico and, in Albuquerque, hot air balloons rising over an orange sky. There’s also the seemingly endless fast food and Tex-Mex of Amarillo and the 19-story cross of Groom, Texas. There’s the traffic in Missouri. After hours of solitude on the road, it excites him.

    Pal’s not strict on dogma or doctrine, and he’s more spiritual than religious. Trucking has shown him that people are more similar than different no matter where you go. The best of all religions, he says, tend to teach the same thing — kindness to others, accepting whatever comes your way and appreciation for what’s in front of you on the road.

    “When I’m driving,” Pal says, “I see God through his creation.”

    His favorite sights are the farms. You spot them in Central California while picking up pallets of potatoes and berries, or in Illinois and Indiana while driving through the corn and soybean fields.

    They remind him of home, the rural outskirts of Patiala, India.

    Nobody in his family drove trucks. Still, to Pal, he’s continuing tradition. His father farmed potatoes, cauliflower, rice and tomatoes. As a child, Pal would ride tractors for fun with Dad. Today, instead of growing food, Pal transports it.

    He wasn’t always a trucker. After immigrating in 2001 with his younger brother, he settled in Canoga Park and worked nights at 7-Eleven. After he was robbed at gunpoint, a friend suggested trucking. Better pay, flexible hours — and less dangerous.

    Three years later, he started driving a rig he didn’t own while getting paid per mile. Today, he has his own company, two trucks between himself and his brother — also a driver — and bids on shipments directly with suppliers. Nationally, the average pay for a trucker is just above $43,000. Pal makes more than twice that.

    He uses the money to pay for the house he shares with his wife, Harjeet Kaur, 4-year-old son, brother and sister-in-law, nieces and parents. Kaur threads eyebrows at a salon and video chats with him during lunch breaks. Every week before he leaves, she packs a duffel bag of his ironed clothes and stacked containers of food for the road.

    “I love it,” Pal says about driving. “But there are always two sides of the coin, head and tail. If you love it, then you have to sacrifice everything. I have to stay away from home. But the thing is, this job pays me good.”

    The truck is fully equipped. From the road, you can see only driver and passenger seats. But behind them is a sleeper cab with a bed that’s 6-foot-7 by 3-foot-2.

    Pal likes to connect the TV sitting atop a mini-fridge to his phone to stream music videos when he’s alone. His favorite songs are by Sharry Maan, an Indian singer who topped charts two years ago with “Transportiye.” It tells the story of a Sikh American trucker who longs for his wife while on the road. At night, the table folds down to become a bed. Pal is just missing a bathroom and his family.

    The life of a Sikh trucker is one of contrasts. On one hand, you see the diversity of America. You encounter new immigrants from around the world working the same job as people who have been truckers for decades. All transport the food, paper and plastic that make the country run. But you also see the relics of the past and the reminders of how you, as a Sikh in 2019, still don’t entirely fit in.

    It’s 9:40 a.m. on Saturday when Pal pulls into Bowlin’s Flying C Ranch rest center in Encino, N.M., an hour past Albuquerque and two from Texas. Here, you can buy a $19,999 stuffed buffalo, Baja jackets and fake Native American moccasins made in China in a vast tourist stop attached to a Dairy Queen and an Exxon. “God Bless the U.S.A.” by Lee Greenwood plays in the background.

    It reminds Pal of the time he was paying his bill at another gas station. A man suddenly shouted at customers to “get out, he’s going to blow up this place!” “I will not fight you,” Pal calmly replied. The man left. Those kinds of instances are rare, but Pal always senses their danger. Some of the most violent attacks on Sikhs this century have been at the hands of people who mistook them for Muslims or Arabs, including the case of a turban-wearing Sikh man in Arizona who was shot dead by a gunman four days after the Sept. 11 attacks.

    For Pal, suspicious glances are more common. So are the truckers who think he’s new to the business or doesn’t speak English. None of it fazes him.

    “Everybody relates to us through Osama bin Laden because we look the same,” he says, driving across the plains toward the Texas Panhandle. “Or they think because my English sounds different that I am not smart. I know who I am.”

    Every day, he wears a silver bracelet that symbolizes a handcuff. “Remember, you are handcuffed to God. Remind yourself to not do bad things,” Pal says. It reminds him to be kind in the face of ignorance and hatred.

    At a Subway in Amarillo a few hours later, he grabs his go-to lunch when he’s taking a break from Indian food: a chicken sandwich on white bread with pepper jack, lettuce, tomato and onion. At home, the family is vegetarian. Pal relishes chances on the road to indulge in meat. He used to depend solely on his wife’s cooking. Today, he has other options. It’s a luxury to switch from homemade meals to Punjabi restaurants to fast food.

    Trucking has helped Pal find his faith. When he moved to the U.S., he used to shave, drink beer and not care much about religion. But as he got bored on the road, he started listening to religious sermons. Twelve years ago, he began to again grow his hair and quit alcohol; drinking it is against the faith’s traditions. Today, he schedules shipments around the temple calendar so he can attend Sikh celebrations with his family.

    “I don’t mind questions about my religion. But when people say to me, ‘Why do you not cut your hair?’ they are asking the wrong question,” Pal says. “The real question is, why do they cut their hair? God made us this way.”

    It’s 4:59 p.m. when he arrives in Sayre, Okla., at Truck Stop 40. A yellow Punjabi-language billboard advertises it as the I-40 starts to bend north in a rural region two hours from Oklahoma City.

    Among the oldest Sikh truck stops, it has a 24-hour vegetarian restaurant, convenience store, gas station and a housing trailer that functions as a temple — all spread over several acres.

    Pal has been coming here for more than decade, since it was a mechanic shop run by a Sikh former trucker who settled on the plot for its cheap land. When he has time, Pal lingers for a meal. But he’s in a rush to get to Joplin, Mo., for the night so he can make his drop-off the next day.

    He grabs a chai and heads to the temple. Resting on a small pillow upon the altar is the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy book. An audiotape plays prayers on a loop. A print of Guru Nanak, the faith’s founder, hangs on the wall.

    Pal prostrates and leaves a few dollar bills on the floor as a donation for upkeep. He prays for God to protect the temple, his family and himself on the 891 miles that remain until he hits the Indianapolis suburbs.

    “This feels like a long drive,” Pal says. “But it’s just a small part of the journey of life.”

    #USA #LKW #Transport #Immigration #Zuwanderung

  • Uber settles with UK women who accused driver of sexual assault
    https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/jun/27/uber-settles-with-uk-women-who-accused-driver-of-sexual-assault

    Firm had contested allegations but has reached undisclosed out-of-court settlements Uber has reached out-of-court settlements with two women who alleged they were sexually assaulted by the same driver in what is believed to be the first case of its kind in the UK against the company. The cases were taken by two women who had ordered vehicles using Uber’s app during nights out in Leeds in December 2015, but told police they were sexually assaulted by the driver. They are both five-figure (...)

    #Uber #procès #harcèlement #viol

    https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/c5afdeaf67ed74eb68450170f2ef0ac6069ee3c4/17_102_2963_1778/master/2963.jpg

  • Inquiries Into Reckless Loans to Taxi Drivers Ordered by State Attorney General and Mayor - The New York Times
    https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/20/nyregion/nyc-taxi-medallion-loans-attorney-general.html

    May 20, 2019 - The investigations come after The New York Times found that thousands of drivers were crushed under debt they could not repay.

    The New York attorney general’s office said Monday it had opened an inquiry into more than a decade of lending practices that left thousands of immigrant taxi drivers in crushing debt, while Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered a separate investigation into the brokers who helped arrange the loans.

    The efforts marked the government’s first steps toward addressing a crisis that has engulfed the city’s yellow cab industry. They came a day after The New York Times published a two-part investigation revealing that a handful of taxi industry leaders artificially inflated the price of a medallion — the coveted permit that allows a driver to own and operate a cab — and made hundreds of millions of dollars by issuing reckless loans to low-income buyers.

    The investigation also found that regulators at every level of government ignored warning signs, and the city fed the frenzy by selling medallions and promoting them in ads as being “better than the stock market.”

    The price of a medallion rose to more than $1 million before crashing in late 2014, which left borrowers with debt they had little hope of repaying. More than 950 medallion owners have filed for bankruptcy, and thousands more are struggling to stay afloat.

    The findings also drew a quick response from other elected officials. The chairman of the Assembly’s banking committee, Kenneth Zebrowski, a Democrat, said his committee would hold a hearing on the issue; the City Council speaker, Corey Johnson, said he was drafting legislation; and several other officials in New York and Albany called for the government to pressure lenders to soften loan terms.

    The biggest threat to the industry leaders appeared to be the inquiry by the attorney general, Letitia James, which will aim to determine if the lenders engaged in any illegal activity.

    “Our office is beginning an inquiry into the disturbing reports regarding the lending and business practices that may have created the taxi medallion crisis,” an office spokeswoman said in a statement. “These allegations are serious and must be thoroughly scrutinized.”

    Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said through a spokesman that he supported the inquiry. “If any of these businesses or lenders did something wrong, they deserve to be held fully accountable,” the spokesman said in a statement.

    Lenders did not respond to requests for comment. Previously, they denied wrongdoing, saying regulators had approved all of their practices and some borrowers had made poor decisions and assumed too much debt. Lenders blamed the crisis on the city for allowing ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft to enter without regulation, which they said led medallion values to plummet.

    Mr. de Blasio said the city’s investigation will focus on the brokers who arranged the loans for drivers and sometimes lent money themselves.

    “The 45-day review will identify and penalize brokers who have taken advantage of buyers and misled city authorities,” the mayor said in a statement. “The review will set down strict new rules that prevent broker practices that hurt hard-working drivers.”

    Four of the city’s biggest taxi brokers did not respond to requests for comment.

    Bhairavi Desai, founder of the Taxi Workers Alliance, which represents drivers and independent owners, said the city should not get to investigate the business practices because it was complicit in many of them.

    The government has already closed or merged all of the nonprofit credit unions that were involved in the industry, saying they participated in “unsafe and unsound banking practices.” At least one credit union leader, Alan Kaufman, the former chief executive of Melrose Credit Union, a major medallion lender, is facing civil charges.

    The other lenders in the industry include Medallion Financial, a specialty finance company; some major banks, including Capital One and Signature Bank; and several loosely regulated taxi fleet owners and brokers who entered the lending business.

    At City Hall, officials said Monday they were focused on how to help the roughly 4,000 drivers who bought medallions during the bubble, as well as thousands of longtime owners who were encouraged to refinance their loans to take out more money during that period.

    One city councilman, Mark Levine, said he was drafting a bill that would allow the city to buy medallion loans from lenders and then forgive much of the debt owed by the borrowers. He said lenders likely would agree because they are eager to exit the business. But he added that his bill would force lenders to sell at discounted prices.

    “The city made hundreds of millions by pumping up sales of wildly overpriced medallions — as late as 2014 when it was clear that these assets were poised to decline,” said Mr. Levine, a Democrat. “We have an obligation now to find some way to offer relief to the driver-owners whose lives have been ruined.”

    Scott M. Stringer, the city comptroller, proposed a similar solution in a letter to the mayor. He said the city should convene the lenders and pressure them to partially forgive loans.

    “These lenders too often dealt in bad faith with a group of hard-working, unsuspecting workers who deserved much better and have yet to receive any measure of justice,” wrote Mr. Stringer, who added that the state should close a loophole that allowed the lenders to classify their loans as business deals, which have looser regulations.

    Last November, amid a spate of suicides by taxi drivers, including three medallion owners with overwhelming debt, the Council created a task force to study the taxi industry.

    On Monday, a spokesman for the speaker, Mr. Johnson, said that members of the task force would be appointed very soon. He also criticized the Taxi and Limousine Commission, the city agency that sold the medallions.

    “We will explore every tool we have to ensure that moving forward, the T.L.C. protects medallion owners and drivers from predatory actors including lenders, medallion brokers, and fleet managers,” Mr. Johnson said in a statement.

    Another councilman, Ritchie Torres, who heads the Council’s oversight committee, disclosed Monday for the first time that he had been trying to launch his own probe since last year, but had been stymied by the taxi commission. “The T.L.C. hasn’t just been asleep at the wheel, they have been actively stonewalling,” he said.

    A T.L.C. spokesman declined to comment.

    In Albany, several lawmakers also said they were researching potential bills.

    One of them, Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou of Manhattan, a member of the committee on banks, said she hoped to pass legislation before the end of the year. She said the state agencies involved in the crisis, including the Department of Financial Services, should be examined.

    “My world has been shaken right now, to be honest,” Ms. Niou said.

    Brian M. Rosenthal is an investigative reporter on the Metro Desk. Previously, he covered state government for the Houston Chronicle and for The Seattle Times. @brianmrosenthal

    #USA #New_York #Taxi #Betrug #Ausbeutung

  • As Thousands of Taxi Drivers Were Trapped in Loans, Top Officials Counted the Money - The New York Times
    https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/19/nyregion/taxi-medallions.html

    [Read Part 1 of The Times’s investigation: How Reckless Loans Devastated a Generation of Taxi Drivers]

    At a cramped desk on the 22nd floor of a downtown Manhattan office building, Gary Roth spotted a looming disaster.

    An urban planner with two master’s degrees, Mr. Roth had a new job in 2010 analyzing taxi policy for the New York City government. But almost immediately, he noticed something disturbing: The price of a taxi medallion — the permit that lets a driver own a cab — had soared to nearly $700,000 from $200,000. In order to buy medallions, drivers were taking out loans they could not afford.

    Mr. Roth compiled his concerns in a report, and he and several colleagues warned that if the city did not take action, the loans would become unsustainable and the market could collapse.

    They were not the only ones worried about taxi medallions. In Albany, state inspectors gave a presentation to top officials showing that medallion owners were not making enough money to support their loans. And in Washington, D.C., federal examiners repeatedly noted that banks were increasing profits by steering cabbies into risky loans.

    They were all ignored.

    Medallion prices rose above $1 million before crashing in late 2014, wiping out the futures of thousands of immigrant drivers and creating a crisis that has continued to ravage the industry today. Despite years of warning signs, at least seven government agencies did little to stop the collapse, The New York Times found.

    Instead, eager to profit off medallions or blinded by the taxi industry’s political connections, the agencies that were supposed to police the industry helped a small group of bankers and brokers to reshape it into their own moneymaking machine, according to internal records and interviews with more than 50 former government employees.

    For more than a decade, the agencies reduced oversight of the taxi trade, exempted it from regulations, subsidized its operations and promoted its practices, records and interviews showed.

    Their actions turned one of the best-known symbols of New York — its signature yellow cabs — into a financial trap for thousands of immigrant drivers. More than 950 have filed for bankruptcy, according to a Times analysis of court records, and many more struggle to stay afloat.

    Remember the ‘10,000 Hours’ Rule for Success? Forget About It
    “Nobody wanted to upset the industry,” said David Klahr, who from 2007 to 2016 held several management posts at the Taxi and Limousine Commission, the city agency that oversees cabs. “Nobody wanted to kill the golden goose.”

    New York City in particular failed the taxi industry, The Times found. Two former mayors, Rudolph W. Giuliani and Michael R. Bloomberg, placed political allies inside the Taxi and Limousine Commission and directed it to sell medallions to help them balance budgets and fund priorities. Mayor Bill de Blasio continued the policies.

    Under Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. de Blasio, the city made more than $855 million by selling taxi medallions and collecting taxes on private sales, according to the city.

    But during that period, much like in the mortgage lending crisis, a group of industry leaders enriched themselves by artificially inflating medallion prices. They encouraged medallion buyers to borrow as much as possible and ensnared them in interest-only loans and other one-sided deals that often required them to pay hefty fees, forfeit their legal rights and give up most of their monthly incomes.

    When the medallion market collapsed, the government largely abandoned the drivers who bore the brunt of the crisis. Officials did not bail out borrowers or persuade banks to soften loan terms.

    “They sell us medallions, and they knew it wasn’t worth price. They knew,” said Wael Ghobrayal, 42, an Egyptian immigrant who bought a medallion at a city auction for $890,000 and now cannot make his loan payments and support his three children.

    “They lost nothing. I lost everything,” he said.

    The Times conducted hundreds of interviews, reviewed thousands of records and built several databases to unravel the story of the downfall of the taxi industry in New York and across the United States. The investigation unearthed a collapse that was years in the making, aided almost as much by regulators as by taxi tycoons.

    Publicly, government officials have blamed the crisis on competition from ride-hailing firms such as Uber and Lyft.

    In interviews with The Times, they blamed each other.

    The officials who ran the city Taxi and Limousine Commission in the run-up to the crash said it was the job of bank examiners, not the commission, to control lending practices.

    The New York Department of Financial Services said that while it supervised some of the banks involved in the taxi industry, it deferred to federal inspectors in many cases.

    The federal agency that oversaw many of the largest lenders in the industry, the National Credit Union Administration, said those lenders were meeting the needs of borrowers.

    The N.C.U.A. released a March 2019 internal audit that scolded its regulators for not aggressively enforcing rules in medallion lending. But even that audit partially absolved the government. The lenders, it said, all had boards of directors that were supposed to prevent reckless practices.

    And several officials criticized Congress, which two decades ago excepted credit unions in the taxi industry from some rules that applied to other credit unions. After that, the officials said, government agencies had to treat those lenders differently.

    Ultimately, former employees said, the regulatory system was set up to ensure that lenders were financially stable, and medallions were sold. But almost nothing protected the drivers.

    Matthew W. Daus, far right, at a hearing of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission in 2004. CreditMarilynn K. Yee/The New York Times
    Matthew W. Daus was an unconventional choice to regulate New York’s taxi industry. He was a lawyer from Brooklyn and a leader of a political club that backed Mr. Giuliani for mayor.

    The Giuliani administration hired him as a lawyer for the Taxi and Limousine Commission before appointing him chairman in 2001, a leadership post he kept after Mr. Bloomberg became mayor in 2002.

    The commission oversaw the drivers and fleets that owned the medallions for the city’s 12,000 cabs. It licensed all participants and decided what cabs could charge, where they could go and which type of vehicle they could use.

    And under Mr. Bloomberg, it also began selling 1,000 new medallions.

    At the time, the mayor said the growing city needed more yellow cabs. But he also was eager for revenue. He had a $3.8 billion hole in his budget.

    The sales put the taxi commission in an unusual position.

    It had a long history of being entangled with the industry. Its first chairman, appointed in 1971, was convicted of a bribery scheme involving an industry lobbyist. Four other leaders since then had worked in the business.

    It often sent staffers to conferences where companies involved in the taxi business paid for liquor, meals and tickets to shows, and at least one past member of its board had run for office in a campaign financed by the industry.

    Still, the agency had never been asked to generate so much money from the business it was supposed to be regulating.

    Former staffers said officials chose to sell medallions with the method they thought would bring in the most revenue: a series of limited auctions that required participants to submit sealed bids above ever-increasing minimums.

    Ahead of the sales, the city placed ads on television and radio, and in newspapers and newsletters, and held seminars promoting the “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

    “Medallions have a long history as a solid investment with steady growth,” Mr. Daus wrote in one newsletter. In addition to guaranteed employment, he wrote, “a medallion is collateral that can assist in home financing, college tuition or even ‘worry-free’ retirement.”

    At the first auctions under Mr. Bloomberg in 2004, bids topped $300,000, surprising experts.

    Some former staffers said in interviews they believed the ad campaign inappropriately inflated prices by implying medallions would make buyers rich, no matter the cost. Seven said they complained.

    The city eventually added a disclaimer to ads, saying past performance did not guarantee future results. But it kept advertising.

    During the same period, the city also posted information on its website that said that medallion prices were, on average, 13 percent higher than they really were, according to a Times data analysis.

    In several interviews, Mr. Daus defended the ad campaigns, saying they reached people who had been unable to break into the tight market. The ads were true at the time, he said. He added he had never heard internal complaints about the ads.

    In all, the city held 16 auctions between 2004 and 2014.

    “People don’t realize how organized it is,” Andrew Murstein, president of Medallion Financial, a lender to medallion buyers, said in a 2011 interview with Tearsheet Podcast. “The City of New York, more or less, is our partner because they want to see prices go as high as possible.”

    Help from a federal agency

    New York City made more than $855 million from taxi medallion sales under Mayor Bill de Blasio and his predecessor, Michael R. Bloomberg.

    For decades, a niche banking system had grown up around the taxi industry, and at its center were about half a dozen nonprofit credit unions that specialized in medallion loans. But as the auctions continued, the families that ran the credit unions began to grow frustrated.

    Around them, they saw other lenders making money by issuing loans that they could not because of the rules governing credit unions. They recognized a business opportunity, and they wanted in.

    They found a receptive audience at the National Credit Union Administration.

    The N.C.U.A. was the small federal agency that regulated the nation’s credit unions. It set the rules, examined their books and insured their accounts.

    Like the city taxi commission, the N.C.U.A. had long had ties to the industry that it regulated. One judge had called it a “rogue federal agency” focused on promoting the industry.

    In 2004, its chairman was Dennis Dollar, a former Mississippi state representative who had previously worked as the chief executive of a credit union. He had just been inducted into the Mississippi Credit Union Hall of Fame, and he had said one of his top priorities was streamlining regulation.

    Dennis Dollar, the former chairman of the National Credit Union Administration, is now a consultant in the industry. 

    Under Mr. Dollar and others, the N.C.U.A. issued waivers that exempted medallion loans from longstanding rules, including a regulation requiring each loan to have a down payment of at least 20 percent. The waivers allowed the lenders to keep up with competitors and to write more profitable loans.

    Mr. Dollar, who left government to become a consultant for credit unions, said the agency was following the lead of Congress, which passed a law in 1998 exempting credit unions specializing in medallion loans from some regulations. The law signaled that those lenders needed leeway, such as the waivers, he said.

    “If we did not do so, the average cabdriver couldn’t get a medallion loan,” Mr. Dollar said.

    The federal law and the N.C.U.A. waivers were not the only benefits the industry received. The federal government also provided many medallion lenders with financial assistance and guaranteed a portion of their taxi loans, assuring that if those loans failed, they would still be partially paid, according to records and interviews.

    As lenders wrote increasingly risky loans, medallion prices neared $500,000 in 2006.

    ‘Snoozing and napping’

    Under Mr. Bloomberg, the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission began selling 1,000 new medallions.

    Another agency was also supposed to be keeping an eye on lending practices. New York State banking regulators are required to inspect all financial institutions chartered in the state. But after 2008, they were forced to focus their attention on the banks most affected by the global economic meltdown, according to former employees.

    As a result, some industry veterans said, the state stopped examining medallion loans closely.

    “The state banking department would come in, and they’d be doing the exam in one room, and the N.C.U.A. would be in another room,” said Larry Fisher, who was then the medallion lending supervisor at Melrose Credit Union, one of the biggest lenders. “And you could catch the state banking department snoozing and napping and going on the internet and not doing much at all.”

    The state banking department, which is now called the New York Department of Financial Services, disputed that characterization and said it had acted consistently and appropriately.

    Former federal regulators described a similar trend at their agencies after the recession.

    Some former employees of the N.C.U.A., the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency said that as medallion prices climbed, they tried to raise issues with loans and were told not to worry. The Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Reserve Board also oversaw some lenders and did not intervene.

    A spokesman for the Federal Reserve said the agency was not a primary regulator of the taxi lending industry. The rest of the agencies declined to comment.

    “It was obvious that the loans were unusual and risky,” said Patrick Collins, a former N.C.U.A. examiner. But, he said, there was a belief inside his agency that the loans would be fine because the industry had been stable for decades.

    Meanwhile, in New York City, the taxi commission reduced oversight.

    For years, it had made medallion purchasers file forms describing how they came up with the money, including details on all loans. It also had required industry participants to submit annual disclosures on their finances, loans and conflicts of interest.

    But officials never analyzed the forms filed by buyers, and in the 2000s, they stopped requiring the annual disclosures altogether.

    “Reviewing these disclosures was an onerous lift for us,” the commission’s communications office said in a recent email.

    By 2008, the price of a medallion rose to $600,000.

    At around the same time, the commission began focusing on new priorities. It started developing the “Taxi of Tomorrow,” a model for future cabs.

    The agency’s main enforcement activities targeted drivers who cheated passengers or discriminated against people of color. “Nobody really scrutinized medallion transfers,” said Charles Tortorici, a former commission lawyer.

    A spokesman for Mr. Bloomberg said in a statement that during the mayor’s tenure, the city improved the industry by installing credit card machines and GPS devices, making fleets more environmentally efficient and creating green taxis for boroughs outside Manhattan.

    “The industry was always its own worst enemy, fighting every reform tooth and nail,” said the spokesman, Marc La Vorgna. “We put our energy and political capital into the reforms that most directly and immediately impacted the riding public.”

    Records show that since 2008, the taxi commission has not taken a single enforcement action against brokers, the powerful players who arrange medallion sales and loans.

    Alex Korenkov, a broker, suggested in an interview that he and other brokers took notice of the city’s hands-off approach.

    “Let’s put it this way,” he said. “If governing body does not care, then free-for-all.”

    By the time that Mr. Roth wrote his report at the Taxi and Limousine Commission in 2010, it was clear that something strange was happening in the medallion market.

    Mr. Daus gave a speech that year that mentioned the unusual lending practices. During the speech, he said banks were letting medallion buyers obtain loans without any down payment. Experts have since said that should have raised red flags. But at the time, Mr. Daus seemed pleased.

    “Some of these folks were offering zero percent down,” he said. “You tell me what bank walks around asking for zero percent down on a loan? It’s just really amazing.”

    In interviews, Mr. Daus acknowledged that the practice was unusual but said the taxi commission had no authority over lending.

    Inside the commission, at least four employees raised concerns about the medallion prices and lending practices, according to the employees, who described their own unease as well as Mr. Roth’s report.

    David S. Yassky, a former city councilman who succeeded Mr. Daus as commission chairman in 2010, said in an interview that he never saw Mr. Roth’s report.

    Mr. Yassky said the medallion prices puzzled him, but he could not determine if they were inflated, in part because people were still eager to buy. Medallions may have been undervalued for decades, and the price spike could have been the market recognizing the true value, he suggested.

    Meera Joshi, who became chairwoman in 2014, said in an interview that she was worried about medallion costs and lending practices but was pushed to prioritize other responsibilities. Dominic Williams, Mr. de Blasio’s chief policy adviser, said the city focused on initiatives such as improving accessibility because no one was complaining about loans.

    Worries about the taxi industry also emerged at the National Credit Union Administration. In late 2011, as the price of some medallions reached $800,000, a group of agency examiners wrote a paper on the risks in the industry, according to a recent report by the agency’s inspector general.

    In 2012, 2013 and 2014, inspectors routinely documented instances of credit unions violating lending rules, the inspector general’s report said.

    David S. Yassky, the former chairman of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission.

    The N.C.U.A. chose not to penalize medallion lenders or impose extra oversight. It did not take any wide industry action until April 2014, when it sent a letter reminding the credit unions in the taxi market to act responsibly.

    Former staffers said the agency was still focused on the fallout from the recession.

    A spokesman for the N.C.U.A. disputed that characterization and said the agency conducted appropriate enforcement.

    He added the agency took actions to ensure the credit unions remained solvent, which was its mission. He said Congress allowed the lenders to concentrate heavily on medallion loans, which left them vulnerable when Uber and Lyft arrived.

    At the New York Department of Financial Services, bank examiners noticed risky practices and interest-only loans and repeatedly wrote warnings starting in 2010, according to the state. At least one report expressed concern of a potential market bubble, the state said.

    Eventually, examiners became so concerned that they made a PowerPoint presentation and called a meeting in 2014 to show it to a dozen top officials.

    “Since 2001, individual medallion has risen 455%,” the presentation warned, according to a copy obtained by The Times. The presentation suggested state action, such as sending a letter to the industry or revoking charters from some lenders.

    The state did neither. The department had recently merged with the insurance department, and former employees said it was finding its footing.

    The department superintendent at the time, Benjamin M. Lawsky, a former aide to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, said he did not, as a rule, discuss his tenure at the department.

    In an emailed statement, the department denied it struggled after the merger and said it took action to stop the collapse of the medallion market. A department spokesman provided a long list of warnings, suggestions and guidelines that it said examiners had issued to lenders. He said that starting in 2012, the department downgraded some of its own internal ratings of the lenders.

    The list did not include any instances of the department formally penalizing a medallion lender, or making any public statement about the industry before it collapsed.

    Between 2010 and 2014, as officials at every level of government failed to rein in the risky lending practices, records show that roughly 1,500 people bought taxi medallions. Over all, including refinancings of old loans and extensions required by banks, medallion owners signed at least 10,000 loans in that time.

    Several regulators who tried to raise alarms said they believed the government stood aside because of the industry’s connections.

    Many pointed to one company — Medallion Financial, run by the Murstein family. Former Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, the current governor’s father, was a paid member of its board from 1996 until he died in 2015.

    Others noted that Mr. de Blasio has long been close to the industry. When he ran for mayor in 2013, an industry lobbyist, Michael Woloz, was a top fund-raiser, records show. And Evgeny Freidman, a major fleet owner who has admitted to artificially inflating medallion prices, has said he is close to the mayor.

    Some people, including Mr. Dollar, the former N.C.U.A. chairman, said Congress excepted the taxi trade from rules because the industry was supported by former United States Senator Alfonse D’Amato of New York, who was then the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee.

    “The taxi industry is one of the most politically connected industries in the city,” said Fidel Del Valle, who was the chairman of the taxi commission from 1991 to 1994. He later worked as a lawyer for drivers and a consultant to an owner association run by Mr. Freidman. “It’s been that way for decades, and they’ve used that influence to push back on regulation, with a lot of success.”

    A spokesman for Mr. Cuomo said Medallion Financial was not regulated by the state, so the elder Mr. Cuomo’s position on the board was irrelevant. A spokeswoman for Mr. de Blasio said the industry’s connections did not influence the city.

    Mr. Murstein, Mr. Woloz, Mr. Freidman and Mr. D’Amato all declined to comment.

    The aftermath
    “I think city will help me,” Mohammad Hossain, who is in deep debt from a taxi medallion loan, said at his family’s home in the Bronx.

    New York held its final independent medallion auction in February 2014. By then, concerns about medallion prices were common in the news media and government offices, and Uber had established itself. Still, the city sold medallions to more than 150 bidders. (“It’s better than the stock market,” one ad said.)

    Forty percent of the people who bought medallions at that auction have filed for bankruptcy, according to a Times analysis of court records.

    Mohammad Hossain, 47, from Bangladesh, who purchased a medallion for $853,000 at the auction, said he could barely make his monthly payments and was getting squeezed by his lender. “I bought medallion from the city,” he said through tears. “I think city will help me, you know. I assume that.”

    The de Blasio administration’s only major response to the crisis has been to push for a cap on ride-hail cars. The City Council at first rejected a cap in 2015 before approving it last year.

    Taxi industry veterans said the cap did not address the cause of the crisis: the lending practices.

    Richard Weinberg, a taxi commission hearing officer from 1988 to 2002 and a lawyer for drivers since then, said that when the medallion bubble began to burst, the city should have frozen prices, adjusted fares and fees and convinced banks to be flexible with drivers. That could have allowed prices to fall slowly. “That could’ve saved a lot of people,” he said.

    In an interview, Dean Fuleihan, the first deputy mayor, said the city did help taxi owners, including by reducing some fees, taxes and inspection mandates, and by talking to banks about loans. He said that if the City Council had passed the cap in 2015, it would have helped.

    “We do care about those drivers, we care about those families. We attempted throughout this period to take actions,” he said.

    Federal regulators also have not significantly helped medallion owners.

    In 2017 and 2018, the N.C.U.A. closed or merged several credit unions for “unsafe business practices” in medallion lending. It took over many of the loans, but did not soften terms, according to borrowers. Instead, it tried to get money out as quickly as possible.

    The failure of the credit unions has cost the national credit union insurance fund more than $750 million, which will hurt all credit union members.

    In August 2018, the N.C.U.A. closed Melrose in what it said was the biggest credit union liquidation in United States history. The agency barred Melrose’s general counsel from working for credit unions and brought civil charges against its former C.E.O., Alan Kaufman, saying he used company funds to help industry partners in exchange for gifts.

    The general counsel, Mitchell Reiver, declined to answer questions but said he did nothing wrong. Mr. Kaufman said in an interview that the N.C.U.A. made up the charges to distract from its role in the crisis.

    “I’m definitely a scapegoat,” Mr. Kaufman said. “There’s no doubt about it.”

    Glamour, then poverty
    After he struggled to repay his taxi medallion loan, Abel Vela left his family in New York and moved back to Peru, where living costs were cheaper. 

    During the medallion bubble, the city produced a television commercial to promote the permits. In the ad, which aired in 2004, four cabbies stood around a taxi discussing the perks of the job. One said buying a medallion was the best decision he had ever made. They all smiled. Then Mr. Daus appeared on screen to announce an auction.

    Fifteen years later, the cabbies remember the ad with scorn. Three of the four were eventually enticed to refinance their original loans under far riskier terms that left them in heavy debt.

    One of the cabbies, Abel Vela, had to leave his wife and children and return to his home country, Peru, because living costs were lower there. He is now 74 and still working to survive.

    The city aired a commercial in 2004 to promote an upcoming auction of taxi medallions. The ad featured real cab drivers, but three of them eventually took on risky loans and suffered financial blows.
    The only woman in the ad, Marie Applyrs, a Haitian immigrant, fell behind on her loan payments and filed for bankruptcy in November 2017. She lost her cab, and her home. She now lives with her children, switching from home to home every few months.

    “When the ad happened, the taxi was in vogue. I think I still have the tape somewhere. It was glamorous,” she said. “Now, I’m in the poorhouse.”

    Today, the only person from the television commercial still active in the industry is Mr. Daus. He works as a lawyer for lenders.

    [Read Part 1 of The Times’s investigation: How Reckless Loans Devastated a Generation of Taxi Drivers]

    Madeline Rosenberg contributed reporting. Doris Burke contributed research. Produced by Jeffrey Furticella and Meghan Louttit.

    #USA #New_York #Taxi #Betrug #Ausbeutung

  • ‘They Were Conned’: How Reckless Loans Devastated a Generation of Taxi Drivers - The New York Times
    https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/19/nyregion/nyc-taxis-medallions-suicides.html


    Mohammed Hoque with his three children in their studio apartment in Jamaica, Queens.

    May 19, 2019 - The phone call that ruined Mohammed Hoque’s life came in April 2014 as he began another long day driving a New York City taxi, a job he had held since emigrating from Bangladesh nine years earlier.

    The call came from a prominent businessman who was selling a medallion, the coveted city permit that allows a driver to own a yellow cab instead of working for someone else. If Mr. Hoque gave him $50,000 that day, he promised to arrange a loan for the purchase.

    After years chafing under bosses he hated, Mr. Hoque thought his dreams of wealth and independence were coming true. He emptied his bank account, borrowed from friends and hurried to the man’s office in Astoria, Queens. Mr. Hoque handed over a check and received a stack of papers. He signed his name and left, eager to tell his wife.

    Mr. Hoque made about $30,000 that year. He had no idea, he said later, that he had just signed a contract that required him to pay $1.7 million.

    Over the past year, a spate of suicides by taxi drivers in New York City has highlighted in brutal terms the overwhelming debt and financial plight of medallion owners. All along, officials have blamed the crisis on competition from ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft.

    But a New York Times investigation found much of the devastation can be traced to a handful of powerful industry leaders who steadily and artificially drove up the price of taxi medallions, creating a bubble that eventually burst. Over more than a decade, they channeled thousands of drivers into reckless loans and extracted hundreds of millions of dollars before the market collapsed.

    These business practices generated huge profits for bankers, brokers, lawyers, investors, fleet owners and debt collectors. The leaders of nonprofit credit unions became multimillionaires. Medallion brokers grew rich enough to buy yachts and waterfront properties. One of the most successful bankers hired the rap star Nicki Minaj to perform at a family party.

    But the methods stripped immigrant families of their life savings, crushed drivers under debt they could not repay and engulfed an industry that has long defined New York. More than 950 medallion owners have filed for bankruptcy, according to a Times analysis of court records. Thousands more are barely hanging on.

    The practices were strikingly similar to those behind the housing market crash that led to the 2008 global economic meltdown: Banks and loosely regulated private lenders wrote risky loans and encouraged frequent refinancing; drivers took on debt they could not afford, under terms they often did not understand.

    Some big banks even entered the taxi industry in the aftermath of the housing crash, seeking a new market, with new borrowers.

    The combination of easy money, eager borrowers and the lure of a rare asset helped prices soar far above what medallions were really worth. Some industry leaders fed the frenzy by purposefully overpaying for medallions in order to inflate prices, The Times found.

    Between 2002 and 2014, the price of a medallion rose to more than $1 million from $200,000, even though city records showed that driver incomes barely changed.

    About 4,000 drivers bought medallions in that period, records show. They were excited to buy, but they were enticed by a dubious premise.

    What Actually Happened to New York’s Taxi DriversMay 28, 2019

    After the medallion market collapsed, Mayor Bill de Blasio opted not to fund a bailout, and earlier this year, the City Council speaker, Corey Johnson, shut down the committee overseeing the taxi industry, saying it had completed most of its work.

    Over 10 months, The Times interviewed 450 people, built a database of every medallion sale since 1995 and reviewed thousands of individual loans and other documents, including internal bank records and confidential profit-sharing agreements.

    The investigation found example after example of drivers trapped in exploitative loans, including hundreds who signed interest-only loans that required them to pay exorbitant fees, forfeit their legal rights and give up almost all their monthly income, indefinitely.

    A Pakistani immigrant who thought he was just buying a car ended up with a $780,000 medallion loan that left him unable to pay rent. A Bangladeshi immigrant said he was told to lie about his income on his loan application; he eventually lost his medallion. A Haitian immigrant who worked to exhaustion to make his monthly payments discovered he had been paying only interest and went bankrupt.

    Abdur Rahim, who is from Bangladesh, is one of several cab drivers who allege they were duped into signing exploitative loans. 
    It is unclear if the practices violated any laws. But after reviewing The Times’s findings, experts said the methods were among the worst that have been used since the housing crash.

    “I don’t think I could concoct a more predatory scheme if I tried,” said Roger Bertling, the senior instructor at Harvard Law School’s clinic on predatory lending and consumer protection. “This was modern-day indentured servitude.”

    Lenders developed their techniques in New York but spread them to Chicago, Boston, San Francisco and elsewhere, transforming taxi industries across the United States.

    In interviews, lenders denied wrongdoing. They noted that regulators approved their practices, and said some borrowers made poor decisions and assumed too much debt. They said some drivers were happy to use climbing medallion values as collateral to take out cash, and that those who sold their medallions at the height of the market made money.

    The lenders said they believed medallion values would keep increasing, as they almost always had. No one, they said, could have predicted Uber and Lyft would emerge to undercut the business.

    “People love to blame banks for things that happen because they’re big bad banks,” said Robert Familant, the former head of Progressive Credit Union, a small nonprofit that specialized in medallion loans. “We didn’t do anything, in my opinion, other than try to help small businesspeople become successful.”

    Mr. Familant made about $30 million in salary and deferred payouts during the bubble, including $4.8 million in bonuses and incentives in 2014, the year it burst, according to disclosure forms.

    Meera Joshi, who joined the Taxi and Limousine Commission in 2011 and became chairwoman in 2014, said it was not the city’s job to regulate lending. But she acknowledged that officials saw red flags and could have done something.

    “There were lots of players, and lots of people just watched it happen. So the T.L.C. watched it happen. The lenders watched it happen. The borrowers watched it happen as their investment went up, and it wasn’t until it started falling apart that people started taking action and pointing fingers,” said Ms. Joshi, who left the commission in March. “It was a party. Why stop it?”

    Every day, about 250,000 people hail a New York City yellow taxi. Most probably do not know they are participating in an unconventional economic system about as old as the Empire State Building.

    The city created taxi medallions in 1937. Unlicensed cabs crowded city streets, so officials designed about 12,000 specialized tin plates and made it illegal to operate a taxi without one bolted to the hood of the car. The city sold each medallion for $10.

    People who bought medallions could sell them, just like any other asset. The only restriction: Officials designated roughly half as “independent medallions” and eventually required that those always be owned by whoever was driving that cab.

    Over time, as yellow taxis became symbols of New York, a cutthroat industry grew around them. A few entrepreneurs obtained most of the nonindependent medallions and built fleets that controlled the market. They were family operations largely based in the industrial neighborhoods of Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan and Long Island City in Queens.

    Allegations of corruption, racism and exploitation dogged the industry. Some fleet bosses were accused of cheating drivers. Some drivers refused to go outside Manhattan or pick up black and Latino passengers. Fleet drivers typically worked 60 hours a week, made less than minimum wage and received no benefits, according to city studies.

    Still, driving could serve as a path to the middle class. Drivers could save to buy an independent medallion, which would increase their earnings and give them an asset they could someday sell for a retirement nest egg.

    Those who borrowed money to buy a medallion typically had to submit a large down payment and repay within five to 10 years.

    The conservative lending strategy produced modest returns. The city did not release new medallions for almost 60 years, and values slowly climbed, hitting $100,000 in 1985 and $200,000 in 1997.

    “It was a safe and stable asset, and it provided a good life for those of us who were lucky enough to buy them,” said Guy Roberts, who began driving in 1979 and eventually bought medallions and formed a fleet. “Not an easy life, but a good life.”

    “And then,” he said, “everything changed.”

    – Before coming to America, Mohammed Hoque lived comfortably in Chittagong, a city on Bangladesh’s southern coast. He was a serious student and a gifted runner, despite a small and stocky frame. His father and grandfather were teachers; he said he surpassed them, becoming an education official with a master’s degree in management. He supervised dozens of schools and traveled on a government-issued motorcycle. In 2004, when he was 33, he married Fouzia Mahabub. -

    That same year, several of his friends signed up for the green card lottery, and their thirst for opportunity was contagious. He applied, and won.

    His wife had an uncle in Jamaica, Queens, so they went there. They found a studio apartment. Mr. Hoque wanted to work in education, but he did not speak enough English. A friend recommended the taxi industry.

    It was an increasingly common move for South Asian immigrants. In 2005, about 40 percent of New York cabbies were born in Bangladesh, India or Pakistan, according to the United States Census Bureau. Over all, just 9 percent were born in the United States.

    Mr. Hoque and his wife emigrated from Bangladesh, and have rented the same apartment in Queens since 2005.

    Mr. Hoque joined Taxifleet Management, a large fleet run by the Weingartens, a Russian immigrant family whose patriarchs called themselves the “Three Wise Men.”

    He worked 5 a.m. to 5 p.m., six days a week. On a good day, he said, he brought home $100. He often felt lonely on the road, and he developed back pain from sitting all day and diabetes, medical records show.

    He could have worked fewer shifts. He also could have moved out of the studio. But he drove as much as feasible and spent as little as possible. He had heard the city would soon be auctioning off new medallions. He was saving to buy one.

    Andrew Murstein, left, with his father, Alvin.CreditChester Higgins Jr./The New York Times
    In the early 2000s, a new generation took power in New York’s cab industry. They were the sons of longtime industry leaders, and they had new ideas for making money.

    Few people represented the shift better than Andrew Murstein.

    Mr. Murstein was the grandson of a Polish immigrant who bought one of the first medallions, built one of the city’s biggest fleets and began informally lending to other buyers in the 1970s. Mr. Murstein attended business school and started his career at Bear Stearns and Salomon Brothers, the investment banks.

    When he joined the taxi business, he has said, he pushed his family to sell off many medallions and to establish a bank to focus on lending. Medallion Financial went public in 1996. Its motto was, “In niches, there are riches.”

    Dozens of industry veterans said Mr. Murstein and his father, Alvin, were among those who helped to move the industry to less conservative lending practices. The industry veterans said the Mursteins, as well as others, started saying medallion values would always rise and used that idea to focus on lending to lower-income drivers, which was riskier but more profitable.

    The strategy began to be used by the industry’s other major lenders — Progressive Credit Union, Melrose Credit Union and Lomto Credit Union, all family-run nonprofits that made essentially all their money from medallion loans, according to financial disclosures.

    “We didn’t want to be the one left behind,” said Monte Silberger, Lomto’s controller and then chief financial officer from 1999 to 2017.

    The lenders began accepting smaller down payments. By 2013, many medallion buyers were not handing over any down payment at all, according to an analysis of buyer applications submitted to the city.

    “It got to a point where we didn’t even check their income or credit score,” Mr. Silberger said. “It didn’t matter.”

    Lenders also encouraged existing borrowers to refinance and take out more money when medallion prices rose, according to interviews with dozens of borrowers and loan officers. There is no comprehensive data, but bank disclosures suggest that thousands of owners refinanced.

    Industry veterans said it became common for owners to refinance to buy a house or to put children through college. “You’d walk into the bank and walk out 30 minutes later with an extra $200,000,” said Lou Bakalar, a broker who arranged loans.

    Yvon Augustin has been living with help from his children ever since he declared bankruptcy and lost his taxi medallion.

    Some pointed to the refinancing to argue that irresponsible borrowers fueled the crisis. “Medallion owners were misusing it,” said Aleksey Medvedovskiy, a fleet owner who also worked as a broker. “They used it as an A.T.M.”

    As lenders loosened standards, they increased returns. Rather than raising interest rates, they made borrowers pay a mix of costs — origination fees, legal fees, financing fees, refinancing fees, filing fees, fees for paying too late and fees for paying too early, according to a Times review of more than 500 loans included in legal cases. Many lenders also made borrowers split their loan and pay a much higher rate on the second loan, documents show.

    Lenders also extended loan lengths. Instead of requiring repayment in five or 10 years, they developed deals that lasted as long as 50 years, locking in decades of interest payments. And some wrote interest-only loans that could continue forever.

    “We couldn’t figure out why the company was doing so many interest-only loans,” said Michelle Pirritano, a Medallion Financial loan analyst from 2007 to 2011. “It was a good revenue stream, but it didn’t really make sense as a loan. I mean, it wasn’t really a loan, because it wasn’t being repaid.”

    Almost every loan reviewed by The Times included a clause that spiked the interest rate to as high as 24 percent if it was not repaid in three years. Lenders included the clause — called a “balloon” — so that borrowers almost always had to extend the loan, possibly at a higher rate than in the original terms, and with additional fees.

    Yvon Augustin was caught in one of those loans. He bought a medallion in 2006, a decade after emigrating from Haiti. He said he paid $2,275 every month — more than half his income, he said — and thought he was paying off the loan. But last year, his bank used the balloon to demand that he repay everything. That is when he learned he had been paying only the interest, he said.

    Mr. Augustin, 69, declared bankruptcy and lost his medallion. He lives off assistance from his children.

    During the global financial crisis, Eugene Haber, a lawyer for the taxi industry, started getting calls from bankers he had never met.

    Mr. Haber had written a template for medallion loans in the 1970s. By 2008, his thick mustache had turned white, and he thought he knew everybody in the industry. Suddenly, new bankers began calling his suite in a Long Island office park. Capital One, Signature Bank, New York Commercial Bank and others wanted to issue medallion loans, he said.

    Some of the banks were looking for new borrowers after the housing market collapsed, Mr. Haber said. “They needed somewhere else to invest,” he said. He said he represented some banks at loan signings but eventually became embittered because he believed banks were knowingly lending to people who could not repay.

    Instead of lending directly, the big banks worked through powerful industry players. They enlisted large fleet owners and brokers — especially Neil Greenbaum, Richard Chipman, Savas Konstantinides, Roman Sapino and Basil Messados — to use the banks’ money to lend to medallion buyers. In return, the owners and brokers received a cut of the monthly payments and sometimes an additional fee.

    The fleet owners and brokers, who technically issued the loans, did not face the same scrutiny as banks.

    “They did loans that were frankly insane,” said Larry Fisher, who from 2003 to 2016 oversaw medallion lending at Melrose Credit Union, one of the biggest lenders originally in the industry. “It contributed to the price increases and put a lot of pressure on the rest of us to keep up.”

    Evgeny Freidman, a fleet owner, has said he purposely overbid for taxi medallions in order to drive up their value.CreditSasha Maslov
    Still, Mr. Fisher said, Melrose followed lending rules. “A lot of people tend to blame others for their own misfortune,” he said. “If they want to blame the lender for the medallion going down the tubes the way it has, I think they’re misplaced.”

    Mr. Konstantinides, a fleet owner and the broker and lender who arranged Mr. Hoque’s loans, said every loan issued by his company abided by federal and state banking guidelines. “I am very sympathetic to the plight of immigrant families who are seeking a better life in this country and in this city,” said Mr. Konstantinides, who added that he was also an immigrant.

    Walter Rabin, who led Capital One’s medallion lending division between 2007 and 2012 and has led Signature Bank’s medallion lending division since, said he was one of the industry’s most conservative lenders. He said he could not speak for the brokers and fleet owners with whom he worked.

    Mr. Rabin and other Signature executives denied fault for the market collapse and blamed the city for allowing ride-hail companies to enter with little regulation. “It’s the City of New York that took the biggest advantage of the drivers,” said Joseph J. DePaolo, the president and chief executive of Signature. “It’s not the banks.”

    New York Commercial Bank said in a statement that it began issuing medallion loans before the housing crisis and that they were a very small part of its business. The bank did not engage in risky lending practices, a spokesman said.

    Mr. Messados said in an interview that he disagreed with interest-only loans and other one-sided terms. But he said he was caught between banks developing the loans and drivers clamoring for them. “They were insisting on this,” he said. “What are you supposed to do? Say, ‘I’m not doing the sale?’”

    Several lenders challenged the idea that borrowers were unsophisticated. They said that some got better deals by negotiating with multiple lenders at once.

    Mr. Greenbaum, Mr. Chipman and Mr. Sapino declined to comment, as did Capital One.

    Some fleet owners worked to manipulate prices. In the most prominent example, Evgeny Freidman, a brash Russian immigrant who owned so many medallions that some called him “The Taxi King,” said he purposefully overpaid for medallions sold at city auctions. He reasoned that the higher prices would become the industry standard, making the medallions he already owned worth more. Mr. Freidman, who was partners with Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former lawyer, disclosed the plan in a 2012 speech at Yeshiva University. He recently pleaded guilty to felony tax fraud. He declined to comment.

    As medallion prices kept increasing, the industry became strained. Drivers had to work longer hours to make monthly payments. Eventually, loan records show, many drivers had to use almost all their income on payments.

    “The prices got to be ridiculous,” said Vincent Sapone, the retired manager of the League of Mutual Taxi Owners, an owner association. “When it got close to $1 million, nobody was going to pay that amount of money, unless they came from another country. Nobody from Brooklyn was going to pay that.”

    Some drivers have alleged in court that lenders tricked them into signing loans.

    Muhammad Ashraf, who is not fluent in English, said he thought he was getting a loan to purchase a car but ended up in debt to buy a taxi medallion instead.

    Muhammad Ashraf, a Pakistani immigrant, alleged that a broker, Heath Candero, duped him into a $780,000 interest-only loan. He said in an interview in Urdu that he could not speak English fluently and thought he was just signing a loan to buy a car. He said he found out about the loan when his bank sued him for not fully repaying. The bank eventually decided not to pursue a case against Mr. Ashraf. He also filed a lawsuit against Mr. Candero. That case was dismissed. A lawyer for Mr. Candero declined to comment.

    Abdur Rahim, a Bangladeshi immigrant, alleged that his lender, Bay Ridge Credit Union, inserted hidden fees. In an interview, he added he was told to lie on his loan application. The application, reviewed by The Times, said he made $128,389, but he said his tax return showed he made about $25,000. In court, Bay Ridge has denied there were hidden fees and said Mr. Rahim was “confusing the predatory-lending statute with a mere bad investment.” The credit union declined to comment.

    Several employees of lenders said they were pushed to write loans, encouraged by bonuses and perks such as tickets to sporting events and free trips to the Bahamas.

    They also said drivers almost never had lawyers at loan closings. Borrowers instead trusted their broker to represent them, even though, unbeknown to them, the broker was often getting paid by the bank.

    Stan Zurbin, who between 2009 and 2012 did consulting work for a lender that issued medallion loans, said that as prices rose, lenders in the industry increasingly lent to immigrants.

    “They didn’t have 750 credit scores, let’s just say,” he said. “A lot of them had just come into the country. A lot of them just had no idea what they were signing.”

    The $1 million medallion
    Video
    Mrs. Hoque did not want her husband to buy a medallion. She wanted to use their savings to buy a house. They had their first child in 2008, and they planned to have more. They needed to leave the studio apartment, and she thought a home would be a safer investment.

    But Mr. Hoque could not shake the idea, especially after several friends bought medallions at the city’s February 2014 auction.

    One friend introduced him to a man called “Big Savas.” It was Mr. Konstantinides, a fleet owner who also had a brokerage and a lending company, Mega Funding.

    The call came a few weeks later. A medallion owner had died, and the family was selling for $1 million.

    Mr. Hoque said he later learned the $50,000 he paid up front was just for taxes. Mega eventually requested twice that amount for fees and a down payment, records show. Mr. Hoque said he maxed out credit cards and borrowed from a dozen friends and relatives.

    Fees and interest would bring the total repayment to more than $1.7 million, documents show. It was split into two loans, both issued by Mega with New York Commercial Bank. The loans made him pay $5,000 a month — most of the $6,400 he could earn as a medallion owner.

    Mohammed Hoque’s Medallion Loans Consumed Most of His Taxi Revenue
    After paying his two medallion loans and business costs, Mr. Hoque had about $1,400 left over each month to pay the rent on his studio apartment in Queens and cover his living expenses.

    Estimated monthly revenue $11,845

    Gas $1,500

    Income after expenses $1,400

    Vehicle maintenance $1,300

    Medallion loan 1 $4,114

    Insurance $1,200

    Car loan $650

    Credit card fees $400

    Medallion loan 2 $881

    Other work-related expenses $400

    By the time the deal closed in July 2014, Mr. Hoque had heard of a new company called Uber. He wondered if it would hurt the business, but nobody seemed to be worried.

    As Mr. Hoque drove to the Taxi and Limousine Commission’s downtown office for final approval of the purchase, he fantasized about becoming rich, buying a big house and bringing his siblings to America. After a commission official reviewed his application and loan records, he said he was ushered into the elegant “Taxi of Tomorrow” room. An official pointed a camera. Mr. Hoque smiled.

    “These are little cash cows running around the city spitting out money,” Mr. Murstein said, beaming in a navy suit and pink tie.

    He did not mention he was quietly leaving the business, a move that would benefit him when the market collapsed.

    By the time of the appearance, Medallion Financial had been cutting the number of medallion loans on its books for years, according to disclosures it filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Mr. Murstein later said the company started exiting the business and focusing on other ventures before 2010.

    Mr. Murstein declined numerous interview requests. He also declined to answer some written questions, including why he promoted medallions while exiting the business. In emails and through a spokesman, he acknowledged that Medallion Financial reduced down payments but said it rarely issued interest-only loans or charged borrowers for repaying loans too early.

    “Many times, we did not match what our competitors were willing to do and in retrospect, thankfully, we lost the business,” he wrote to The Times.

    Interviews with three former staffers, and a Times review of loan documents that were filed as part of lawsuits brought by Medallion Financial against borrowers, indicate the company issued many interest-only loans and routinely included a provision allowing it to charge borrowers for repaying loans too early.

    Other lenders also left the taxi industry or took precautions long before the market collapsed.

    The credit unions specializing in the industry kept making new loans. But between 2010 and 2014, they sold the loans to other financial institutions more often than in the previous five years, disclosure forms show. Progressive Credit Union, run by Mr. Familant, sold loans off almost twice as often, the forms show. By 2012, that credit union was selling the majority of the loans it issued.

    In a statement, Mr. Familant said the selling of loans was a standard banking practice that did not indicate a lack of confidence in the market.

    Several banks used something called a confession of judgment. It was an obscure document in which the borrower admitted defaulting on the loan — even before taking out any money at all — and authorized the bank to do whatever it wanted to collect.

    Larry Fisher was the medallion lending supervisor at Melrose Credit Union, one of the biggest lenders originally in the industry, from 2003 to 2016.
    Congress has banned that practice in consumer loans, but not in business loans, which is how lenders classified medallion deals. Many states have barred it in business loans, too, but New York is not among them.

    Even as some lenders quietly braced for the market to fall, prices kept rising, and profits kept growing.

    By 2014, many of the people who helped create the bubble had made millions of dollars and invested it elsewhere.

    Medallion Financial started focusing on lending to R.V. buyers and bought a professional lacrosse team and a Nascar team, painting the car to look like a taxi. Mr. Murstein and his father made more than $42 million between 2002 and 2014, disclosures show. In 2015, Ms. Minaj, the rap star, performed at his son’s bar mitzvah.

    The Melrose C.E.O., Alan Kaufman, had the highest base salary of any large state-chartered credit union leader in America in 2013 and 2015, records show. His medallion lending supervisor, Mr. Fisher, also made millions.

    It is harder to tell how much fleet owners and brokers made, but in recent years news articles have featured some of them with new boats and houses.

    Mr. Messados’s bank records, filed in a legal case, show that by 2013, he had more than $50 million in non-taxi assets, including three homes and a yacht.

    The bubble bursts

    At least eight drivers have committed suicide, including three medallion owners with overwhelming loans.
    The medallion bubble burst in late 2014. Uber and Lyft may have hastened the crisis, but virtually all of the hundreds of industry veterans interviewed for this article, including many lenders, said inflated prices and risky lending practices would have caused a collapse even if ride-hailing had never been invented.

    At the market’s height, medallion buyers were typically earning about $5,000 a month and paying about $4,500 to their loans, according to an analysis by The Times of city data and loan documents. Many owners could make their payments only by refinancing when medallion values increased, which was unsustainable, some loan officers said.

    City data shows that since Uber entered New York in 2011, yellow cab revenue has decreased by about 10 percent per cab, a significant bite for low-earning drivers but a small drop compared with medallion values, which initially rose and then fell by 90 percent.

    As values fell, borrowers asked for breaks. But many lenders went the opposite direction. They decided to leave the business and called in their loans.

    They used the confessions to get hundreds of judgments that would allow them to take money from bank accounts, court records show. Some tried to get borrowers to give up homes or a relative’s assets. Others seized medallions and quickly resold them for profit, while still charging the original borrowers fees and extra interest. Several drivers have alleged in court that their lenders ordered them to buy life insurance.

    Many lenders hired a debt collector, Anthony Medina, to seize medallions from borrowers who missed payments.

    The scars left on cabs after medallions were removed.

    Mr. Medina left notes telling borrowers they had to give the lender “relief” to get their medallions back. The notes, which were reviewed by The Times, said the seizure was “authorized by vehicle apprehension unit.” Some drivers said Mr. Medina suggested he was a police officer and made them meet him at a park at night and pay $550 extra in cash.

    One man, Jean Demosthenes, a 64-year-old Haitian immigrant who could not speak English, said in an interview in Haitian Creole that Mr. Medina cornered him in Midtown, displayed a gun and took his car.

    In an interview, Mr. Medina denied threatening anyone with a gun. He said he requested cash because drivers who had defaulted could not be trusted to write good checks. He said he met drivers at parks and referred to himself as the vehicle apprehension unit because he wanted to hide his identity out of fear he could be targeted by borrowers.

    “You’re taking words from people that are deadbeats and delinquent people. Of course, they don’t want to see me,” he said. “I’m not the bad guy. I’m just the messenger from the bank.”

    Some lenders, especially Signature Bank, have let borrowers out of their loans for one-time payments of about $250,000. But to get that money, drivers have had to find new loans. Mr. Greenbaum, a fleet owner, has provided many of those loans, sometimes at interest rates of up to 15 percent, loan documents and interviews showed.

    New York Commercial Bank said in its statement it also had modified some loans.

    Other drivers lost everything. Most of the more than 950 owners who declared bankruptcy had to forfeit their medallions. Records indicate many were bought by hedge funds hoping for prices to rise. For now, cabs sit unused.

    Jean Demosthenes said his medallion was repossessed by a man with a gun. The man denied that he was armed.

    Bhairavi Desai, founder of the Taxi Workers Alliance, which represents drivers and independent owners, has asked the city to bail out owners or refund auction purchasers. Others have urged the city to pressure banks to forgive loans or soften terms.

    After reviewing The Times’s findings, Deepak Gupta, a former top official at the United States Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, said the New York Attorney General’s Office should investigate lenders.

    Mr. Gupta also said the state should close the loophole that let lenders classify medallion deals as business loans, even though borrowers had to guarantee them with everything they owned. Consumer loans have far more disclosure rules and protections.

    “These practices were indisputably predatory and would be illegal if they were considered consumer loans, rather than business loans,” he said.

    Last year, amid eight known suicides of drivers, including three medallion owners with overwhelming loans, the city passed a temporary cap on ride-hailing cars, created a task force to study the industry and directed the city taxi commission to do its own analysis of the debt crisis.

    Earlier this year, the Council eliminated the committee overseeing the industry after its chairman, Councilman Rubén Díaz Sr. of the Bronx, said the Council was “controlled by the homosexual community.” The speaker, Mr. Johnson, said, “The vast majority of the legislative work that we have been looking at has already been completed.”

    In a statement, a council spokesman said the committee’s duties had been transferred to the Committee on Transportation. “The Council is working to do as much as it can legislatively to help all drivers,” the spokesman said.

    As of last week, no one had been appointed to the task force.

    On the last day of 2018, Mr. and Mrs. Hoque brought their third child home from the hospital.

    Mr. Hoque cleared space for the boy’s crib, pushing aside his plastic bags of T-shirts and the fan that cooled the studio. He looked around. He could not believe he was still living in the same room.

    His loan had quickly faltered. He could not make the payments and afford rent, and his medallion was seized. Records show he paid more than $12,000 to Mega, and he said he paid another $550 to Mr. Medina to get it back. He borrowed from friends, promising it would not happen again. Then it happened four more times, he said.

    Mr. Konstantinides, the broker, said in his statement that he met with Mr. Hoque many times and twice modified one of his loans in order to lower his monthly payments. He also said he gave Mr. Hoque extra time to make some payments.

    In all, between the initial fees, monthly payments and penalties after the seizures, Mr. Hoque had paid about $400,000 into the medallion by the beginning of this year.

    But he still owed $915,000 more, plus interest, and he did not know what to do. Bankruptcy would cost money, ruin his credit and remove his only income source. And it would mean a shameful end to years of hard work. He believed his only choice was to keep working and to keep paying.

    His cab was supposed to be his ticket to money and freedom, but instead it seemed like a prison cell. Every day, he got in before the sun rose and stayed until the sky began to darken. Mr. Hoque, now 48, tried not to think about home, about what he had given up and what he had dreamed about.

    “It’s an unhuman life,” he said. “I drive and drive and drive. But I don’t know what my destination is.”

    [Read Part 2 of The Times’s investigation: As Thousands of Taxi Drivers Were Trapped in Loans, Top Officials Counted the Money]

    Reporting was contributed by Emma G. Fitzsimmons, Suzanne Hillinger, Derek M. Norman, Elisha Brown, Lindsey Rogers Cook, Pierre-Antoine Louis and Sameen Amin. Doris Burke and Susan Beachy contributed research. Produced by Jeffrey Furticella and Meghan Louttit.

    Follow Brian M. Rosenthal on Twitter at @brianmrosenthal

    #USA #New_York #Taxi #Betrug #Ausbeutung

  • Do transportation network companies decrease or increase congestion ?
    https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/5/5/eaau2670

    Transportation network companies (TNCs) have grown rapidly in recent years. In 2016, TNCs were 15% of all intra-San Francisco vehicle trips, which is 12 times the number of taxi trips (1), while in New York in 2016, TNC ridership equaled that of yellow cab and doubled annually between 2014 and 2016 (2). TNCs are on-demand ride services where rides are arranged through a mobile app to connect the passenger with a driver, often a private individual driving their personal vehicle (3). The (...)

    #Lyft #Uber #urbanisme

  • Uber Drivers in four UK cities to protest ahead of company’s IPO · IWGB
    https://iwgb.org.uk/post/5cd28b1260b6f/uber-drivers-in-four-uk

    8 May 2019 - Uber drivers in London, Birmingham, Nottingham and Glasgow to log off app and protest outside Uber offices in each city
    Drivers condemn Uber for large payouts to founder, venture capitalists and executives despite failure to resolve pay issues

    Drivers call on public to not cross “digital picket line” on 8 May
    8 May: Hundreds of Uber drivers will log off the app and stage protests in London, Birmingham, Nottingham and Glasgow today, as part of an international day of action taking place in dozens of cities around the world ahead of the company’s IPO.

    UK drivers are expected to log off the app between 7am and 4pm and the United Private Hire Drivers (UPHD) branch of the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB), is calling for drivers to protest outside of Uber’s offices in London, Birmingham, Nottingham and Glasgow.

    The IWGB’s UPHD branch is asking the public to not cross the digital picket line by using the app to book Uber services during these times. Thousands of other drivers are expected to take action around the world, from the United States to Brazil, as part of an international day of action.

    Drivers are protesting against the IPO, which will value the company at tens of billions of dollars and lead to massive payouts for investors, while driver pay continues to be cut.

    Despite the expected massive payout for a few at the top, Uber’s business model is unsustainable in its dependence upon large scale worker exploitation. Since 2016, successive judgements from the UK’s Employment Tribunal, Employment Appeal Tribunal and Court of Appeal have all said Uber drivers are being unlawfully denied basic worker rights, such as the minimum wage and holiday pay. The IWGB is expected to face Uber at the Supreme Court later this year.

    Uber’s own prospectus recently filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission admits that being forced to respect worker rights and pay VAT as a result of the IWGB’s legal challenge would be a material risk to its business model. It also says that driver pay and job satisfaction will fall as Uber seeks to cut costs to become profitable.

    Analysis by UPHD shows that Uber drivers currently earn on average £5 per hour and work as much as 30 hours per week before breaking even.

    The drivers are demanding:

    Fares be increased to £2 per mile

    Commissions paid by drivers to Uber be reduced from 25% to 15%

    An end to unfair dismissals*

    Uber to respect the rulings of the Employment Tribunal, The Employment Appeal Tribunal and the Court of Appeal confirming ’worker’ status for drivers

    IWGB UPHD branch secretary Yaseen Aslam said: “Since Uber arrived to the UK in 2012, it has progressively driven down pay and conditions in the minicab sector to the point where many drivers are now being pushed to work over 60 hours a week just to get by. Now, a handful of investors are expected to get filthy rich off the back of the exploitation of these drivers on poverty wages. We are protesting today demanding that the company pay drivers a decent wage and that government authorities tackle Uber’s chronic unlawful behaviour.”

    IWGB UPHD branch chair James Farrar said: “Uber’s flotation is shaping up to be an unprecedented international orgy of greed as investors cash in on one of the most abusive business models ever to emerge from Silicon Valley. It is the drivers who have created this extraordinary wealth but they continue to be denied even the most basic workplace rights. We call on the public not to cross the digital picket line on 8 May but to stand in solidarity with impoverished drivers across the world who have made Uber so successful.”

    The protests are expected to take place at:

    London 1pm - Uber UK Head Office,1 Aldgate Tower, 2 Leman St, London E1 8FA

    Birmingham 1pm -100 Broad St, Birmingham B15 1AE

    Nottingham 1pm - King Edward Court Unit C, Nottingham NG1 1EL

    Glasgow 2pm - 69 Buchanan St, Glasgow G1 3HL

    #Uber #Streik #London #Birmingham #Nottingham #Glasgow

  • Uber strike: Drivers around the world turn off app ahead of IPO - CNN
    https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/08/tech/uber-strike/index.html

    Uber drivers around the world are logging out of the company’s app to protest its compensation policies ahead of a blockbuster public offering.

    Strikes are scheduled for Wednesday in major US cities, as well as parts of the United Kingdom, Australia and South America. The message from participants: Uber needs to offer its drivers job security and higher wages.
    Uber is expected to go public Friday on the New York Stock Exchange. The debut could raise roughly $10 billion for the ride-hailing company.
    Uber and its rival Lyft (LYFT) have long argued their drivers are independent contractors. That status means workers in many countries don’t get the same rights as employees.

    “Drivers are at the heart of our service — we can’t succeed without them,” Uber said in a statement.

    “Whether it’s more consistent earnings, stronger insurance protections or fully-funded four-year degrees for drivers or their families, we’ll continue working to improve the experience for and with drivers,” it added.
    The strike action kicked off in London at 7 a.m. local time and will last until 4 p.m., according to James Farrar, a spokesperson for the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain, which advocates for people working in the gig economy.

    Uber and Lyft drivers strike for better pay

    The union wants UK drivers and customers to avoid the Uber app during the protest. It expects thousands of drivers to participate, based on the numbers that have joined its private drivers’ branch, Farrar said.

    One driver on strike in London, Muhumed Ali, said he wants Uber to boost fares and take a smaller cut of sales.

    “The drivers are the ones who are running the business,” said Ali, who’s been driving for Uber for four years and says it’s his primary source of income. “We are collecting pennies.”

    Backing from politicians in Britain’s Labour Party, including opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, could help encourage customers to stay away, according to Farrar.

    Uber cannot be allowed to get away with huge payouts for their CEOs while refusing to pay drivers a decent wage and respect their rights at work. Stand with these workers on strike today, across the UK and the world, asking you not to use Uber between 7am and 4pm. #UberShutDown
    — Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) May 8, 2019

    Other cities are expected to join the protests. Drivers are pushing for better treatment and improved conditions, but the specific demands vary by organizing group.

    Uber drivers protest outside the Uber offices in London.
    In San Diego and Los Angeles, drivers are slated to cease working for 24 hours. In Atlanta, workers plan to log off for 12 hours. And in New York City, a two-hour strike was planned for the morning commute.
    In addition to powering off their apps, drivers will hold rallies held in strategic locations such as outside local Uber offices.
    In the United Kingdom, protests are scheduled to take place outside Uber offices in London, Birmingham, Nottingham and Glasgow.

    Independent Workers Union of Great Britain
    https://iwgb.org.uk

    #Uber #Streik #London #USA

  • When a Town Takes Uber Instead of Public Transit - CityLab
    https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2019/04/innisfil-transit-ride-hailing-bus-public-transportation-uber/588154

    Ihr Gemeinde hat keine öffentliches Busnetz, sie brauchen aber eins? Kein Problem, Uber macht das. Sofort, unkompliziert, flexibel, alle sind froh. Dann kommt der Erfolg. Und dann wird es teuer. So geschehen in einer Gemeinde in Kanada.

    Will das jemand in Deutschland?

    Das Rechenexempel zeigt, dass es egal ist, wie der private vermittler oder Beförderer heißt. Öffenliche System werden mit zunehmendem Erfolg immer billiger, private immer teurer. Ergo sind private Anbieter gut für Zwischenlösungen bis zum Aufbau eines funktionsfähigen öffentlichen Nahverkehrssystems. Wer sie beauftragt, muss den Zeitpunkt des Wechsels zur öffentlichen Lösung von Anfang an planen, sonst schlägt die Kostenfalle zu.

    Noch dümmer ist es, wenn öffentliche Angebote privatisiert werden. Dann wird es auch bei eingeschänktem Service sofort teuer.

    LAURA BLISS APR 29, 2019 - Innisfil, Ontario, decided to partially subsidize ride-hailing trips rather than pay for a public bus system. It worked so well that now they have to raise fares and cap rides.

    In 2017, the growing Toronto exurb of Innisfil, Ontario, became one of the first towns in the world to subsidize Uber rides in lieu of a traditional bus. Riders could pay a flat fare of just $3-$5 to travel to community hubs in the backseat of a car, or get $5 off regular fares to other destinations in and around town.

    People loved it. By the end of the Uber program’s first full year of service, they were taking 8,000 trips a month. Riders like 20-year-old Holley Hudson, who works for daycare programs at YMCAs around the area, relied on it heavily, since she doesn’t drive. To get to the college course practicums she was taking when the service launched, “I used Ubers on a Wednesday, Thursday, Friday basis,” she said.

    Now “Innisfil Transit” is changing its structure. As of April 1, flat fares for the city-brokered Ubers rose by $1. Trip discounts dropped to $4, and a 30-ride monthly cap was implemented. Town leaders say this will allow Innisfil to continue to cover costs.

    But Hudson and others see the changes as harmful, and a strange way of declaring success. As cities around the world turn to Uber, Lyft, and other apps as a quick fix for mobility service gaps, what’s now happening in Innisfil may be a good example of the risks.

    Innisfil’s journey with Uber began in 2015. Thickening traffic and an expanding population of seniors, students, and carless adults all signaled the need for some sort of shared mobility option in town. Just 45 minutes north of Toronto, the once-agricultural hamlet has recently ballooned in population, growing 17 percent from 2006 to 2016 to 37,000 residents.

    But as local leaders studied options for a fixed-route bus service, the cost/benefit analysis didn’t seem to add up. One bus to serve a projected 17,000 annual riders would cost $270,000 in Canadian dollars for the first year of service, or about $16 per passenger. And designing the system would be a drawn-out process.

    So instead, Innisfil did as so many people do when they’re in a hurry and facing a cumbersome bus ride: It hailed an Uber instead.

    “Rather than place a bus on the road to serve just a few residents, we’re moving ahead with a better service that can transport people from all across our town to wherever they need to go,” Gord Wauchope, then the mayor, said at the time.

    That logic is informing ride-hailing partnerships in dozens of communities across North America, all testing the notion that companies like Uber and Lyft can supplement or substitute for traditional service in some fashion. In certain cases, ride-hailing is replacing bus routes wholesale. In others, it’s responding to 911 calls, paratransit needs, and commuters traveling the last leg of a transit trip. Innisfil’s program was unique, in that the city branded the Uber partnership not as a complement to public transit, but as transit itself in a town without existing bus lines.

    Adoption of Innisfil Transit was fast and steady: The program racked up 86,000 rides in 2018. Nearly 70 percent of respondents to a city survey said that they were satisfied or more than satisfied with the new service—figures that would be the envy of any traditional public transit agency.

    But that popularity meant costs grew for the town. So now residents will have to cover more of their own trips. “It’s the growing ridership and popularity of the service,” town planner Paul Pentikainen said. “It’s been a great success, but there are also challenges with working with a budget.”

    “I would never get on a bus in Toronto and hear the driver say, ‘Sorry, but you’ve hit your cap.’”
    Normally, though, raising transit fares when ridership is growing is backwards logic. While passenger fares almost never cover the full cost of service, more passengers riding fixed-route buses and trains should shrink the per-capita public subsidy, at least until additional routes are added. On a well-designed mass transit system, the more people using it, the “cheaper” it gets.

    But the opposite is happening in Innisfil. Only so many passengers can fit in the backseat of an Uber, and the ride-hailing company, not the town, is pocketing most of the revenue. With per-capita costs essentially fixed, the town is forced to hike rates and cap trips as adoption grows. But this can create a perverse incentive: Fare bumps and ridership drops tend to go hand-in-hand on traditional systems.

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    The trip cap in particular bothers Hudson, who continues to rely on the Uber service as her primary mode of transportation. She expects that she’ll burn through her allotted 30 trips in a couple of weeks. The city has an application for residents to qualify for an extra 20 trips per month, but Hudson doesn’t plan to file. She’s opposed to the idea on principle.

    “I would never get on a bus in Toronto and hear the driver say, ‘Sorry, but you’ve hit your cap,’” Hudson said. “Uber was supposed to be our bus.”

    Hudson emailed town officials to complain about the new trip limit. In a reply, a city councillor named Donna Orsatti wrote that the cap had been implemented because “the system was being abused by those in the youth bracket who were using Uber at $3 to go to Starbucks (as an example), purchase a drink, then go back to school or meet their friends.”

    That sounded oddly judgmental to Hudson’s ears. And it’s not how public transit is supposed to work: “We shouldn’t be criticized for where we’re going,” she said.

    In an email to CityLab, Orsatti explained her intentions. The cap was never meant to restrict residents, but rather “to ensure it is available to all residents to allow them transportation to essential service areas,” she wrote. And Pentikainen acknowledged that, while the rate structure might work differently from traditional transit, Uber still makes more sense for Innisfil. The city’s subsidy for the program grew from $150,000 in 2017 to about $640,000 in 2018, and for 2019, it has allocated another $900,000. On a per trip basis, Pentikainen said, it’s still a lot cheaper than the projected bus costs, and more equitable.

    “It’s a service that the whole town has access to, versus providing a service that only those who can walk to bus stops can,” he said.

    Pentikainen says that—despite Orsatti’s email—no city report called out Starbucks-toting teens for “abusing” the system. But he did note that the cap was partly designed to discourage short-distance trips that can be accomplished on foot or bike for most people.

    According to an Uber spokesperson, the ride-hailing company also advised the city to implement the cap as a way to control costs.

    Uber has touted the success of the Innisfil program as it invites other cities to adopt its model. Part of the attraction is that ridership is sinking on public transit systems across North America, as on-demand transportation apps has boomed. City decision-makers sometimes opt for Lyft and Uber as a way to lure travelers back, or to cut costs on low-performing routes. In other cases, the rise of ride-hailing is used as a bad-faith justification for further slashing bus service.

    Success has been mixed for transit agency/ride-hailing marriages. Many programs have seen weak ridership, and cities can find themselves hamstrung in their ability to make adjustments, since ride-hailing companies are famously guarded about sharing trip data. Some, including Pinellas County, Florida, which subsidizes certain Uber trips, have heard complaints that municipal discounts don’t go very far as the on-demand transportation giant has raised its own fares.

    Now that both Uber and Lyft have filed initial public offerings, industry analysts predict that the costs of these services—which have been heavily subsidized by their billions in venture capital backing—will creep steadily upwards as public investors expect returns. And city governments and commuters who come to rely on ride-hailing as a social service won’t have much control.

    In Innisfil, Uber fares have held steady, according to Pentikainen. And the company has shared certain data upon request. As the city grows and ride-hailing services evolve, it will continue to evaluate the best way to mobilize its residents, Pentikainen said. Eventually, Innisfil might be interested in adopting Uber’s latest transit-like offering, which is called Uber Bus. Similar to the microtransit startup Via and its failed predecessors Chariot and Bridj, riders are scooped up in larger vans at designated locations on a schedule that is determined based on demand.

    And if Uber ever raised fares to the point where riders could no longer rationalize the costs, the city would go back to the drawing board. In some parts of town, Pentikainen said, they might even consider a regular fixed-route bus. “There are a range of ways to consider efficiencies from the town’s perspective,” he said. “All along, this was a starting point. We have to react along the way.”

    Still, the idea of further changes made in reaction to the app’s contingencies worries Hudson. That doesn’t sound like very reliable service for her, nor for the older people and students she sees riding in Ubers en route to school and doctor’s appointments. If Innisfil makes further tweaks, Hudson says she might consider getting her license in order to avoid the stress. But she fears more for what could happen to those who can’t.

    “Uber was supposed to be our public transit,” she said. “Now we have to think about whether we can take an Uber or not.”

    #Kanada #ÖPNV #Bus #Taxi #Uber #disruption #Rekommunalisierung

  • Illegal logging poised to wipe Cambodian wildlife sanctuary off the map
    https://news.mongabay.com/2019/05/illegal-logging-poised-to-wipe-cambodian-wildlife-sanctuary-off-the-m

    Beng Per Wildlife Sanctuary has lost more than 60 percent of its forest cover since it was established in 1993, with most of the loss occurring since 2010.
    A big driver behind the deforestation in Beng Per and in many other Cambodian protected areas was Economic Land Concessions (ELCs), which are areas of land – often in protected areas – allocated by the government to corporations aiming to invest in agriculture for short-term financial gains. Large areas of Beng Per were carved out for ELCs in 2011.
    While the Cambodian government stopped officially allocating ELCs in 2012, deforestation is still hitting the park hard as small-scale illegal logging gobbles up remaining forest outside ELC areas. And once the land is denuded, it’s considered fair game for new plantation development.
    Experts working on the ground say corruption is fuelling the widespread destruction of Cambodia’s forests, and is deeply entrenched in many different sectors including the federal government and local forest protection agencies.


    #Cambodge #forêt #déforestation #hévéa #caoutchouc

  • Settlers ’executed’ a Palestinian, and the Israeli army covered it up, rights group reports - Israel News - Haaretz.com
    https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-settlers-executed-a-palestinian-and-idf-covered-it-up-human-rights

    Abed al-Muneim Abdel Fattah. Explained repeatedly to investigators that his son had no family or other problems and was never active in any group. Credit : Alex Levac

    It’s a very busy traffic circle on Highway 60, the major route in the West Bank, between the Hawara checkpoint and the Tapuah settlement intersection, not far from Nablus. As you drive toward the spot, which the Palestinians call Beita Circle and the settlers call Beitot Circle, garbage is piled up along the roadside. This is the industrial zone of the town of Hawara, where there is no industry other than garages and workers’ restaurants that look out onto the highway.

    On April 3, three men, all of them on the way to work, arrived at the traffic circle separately. Only two of them left the site alive. The third was shot to death. The B’Tselem Israeli human rights organization asserted this week that the shooting was an execution and that the Israel Defense Forces destroyed evidence and whitewashed the findings.

    It all happened in a flash. A little before 8:30 A.M., Mohammed Abdel Fattah arrived at the circle. He was 23 years old, married and the father of 7-month-old daughter, on the way from his apartment in his uncle’s house in the village of Beita to his job at the uncle’s brick factory in the village of Jama’in. He had apparently been traveling in a shared taxi. Eyewitnesses saw him standing by the side of the road and smoking two cigarettes, one after the other. What was going on in his mind? What was he planning? What made him act? We are unlikely to know.

    He then crossed the road, to the west. He stood on the shoulder, within touching distance of the vehicles proceeding from north to south, a few meters from the circle, where traffic has to slow down. The road was very busy at that time of the morning. He threw two or three stones, not very big ones, at passing cars, hitting no one.

    Even a visit to the home of Mohammed’s family did not provide an explanation for why he threw the stones. He was not a teenager and had never been arrested. He was married with a child, had a steady job and was on the way to work. A few days earlier he’d been to Israel for the first time in his life; together with his wife he visited Jerusalem and they later ate fish at a restaurant in Jaffa. Perhaps that trip holds the key to what drove the young married father to throw stones or try to stab a settler that morning.

    One of the cars he’d thrown a stone at stopped. It was a white Renault with a blue poster of the Union of Right-Wing Parties displayed in the rear window. The driver was Yehoshua Sherman, from the settlement of Elon Moreh, who was working as a field director for the Union of Right-Wing Parties during the election campaign, which had then entered its final week. A blurry video clip from a security camera shows Sherman’s car, which had been traveling from north to south, stopping. Fifteen seconds later, Sherman gets out of the car and apparently shoots Mohammed Abdel Fattah, who’s seen kneeling behind the vehicle. We don’t know what happened in those 15 seconds – the car blocks the view.

    In the meantime a truck with Israeli plates also stops and the driver gets out. B’Tselem field researchers Salma a-Deb’i and Abdulkarim Sadi cite witnesses as saying that they heard two shots. They think Sherman fired them before leaving his car. Abdel Fattah apparently tried to seek refuge behind a dumpster, which this week was still there, overflowing with refuse, at the edge of the road. A second video clip shows him lying on the road on his stomach, and being turned over onto his back by soldiers trying to ascertain if he was carrying explosives.

    According to the testimonies B’Tselem took from four people, who all saw similar things, the two drivers fired a number of shots from close range even after Abdel Fattah lay wounded on the ground. B’Tselem also claims the Israel Defense Forces deleted footage from security cameras in the area of the shooting of the wounded man. Israeli media reported that “a Palestinian terrorist was shot and subdued by two drivers after trying to stab a father and his daughter near Hawara, south of Nablus.”

    From the B’Tselem report, on its website: “At that point, Abdel Fattah was crouching among the dumpsters. Sherman approached him and fired several more shots at him. A truck driving along the road also stopped, and the driver got out. He came over to stand next to Sherman, and the two men fired several more shots at Abdel Fattah, who was lying wounded on the ground… Abdel Fattah succumbed to his wounds a short while later, at Beilinson Hospital in Israel.”

    One of the shots hit Khaled Hawajba, a young man who works in a nearby store, in the abdomen. He was treated in Rafidiya Hospital in Nablus and discharged a few days later.

    Minutes after the shooting by the two settlers, military jeeps arrived at the scene. The soldiers used stun grenades to disperse the crowd that had begun to gather at the site. According to B’Tselem, immediately afterward a group of about eight soldiers entered two of the nearby businesses to check their security cameras. They dismantled a digital video recorder in one of the stores and left. About 20 minutes later, the soldiers returned to the store, reinstalled the DVR and watched the footage.

    “Two soldiers filmed the screen with their mobile phones. They then erased the footage from the DVR and left,” the B’Tselem report states.

    In one of the clips that was uploaded to social networks in Israel, the photographer can be heard saying in Hebrew: “The terrorist tried to jump onto the Jew’s car and stab him. Our heroic soldiers eliminated him, may his name be blotted out. There are no casualties.”

    After the incident, Sherman told Srugim, a website that calls itself “the home site of the religious sector”: “At Beitot junction a terrorist with a knife jumped on the car and tried to open the door. I got out and as the terrorist tried to go around the car in my direction I subdued him with gunfire with the aid of another resident of a nearby settlement who was driving behind me.”

    The media reported that Sherman’s daughter was in the back seat; the allegation was that Abdel Fattah tried to open the car door and stab her. In the clip B’Tselem attached to its report, her father is seen moving relatively coolly toward the young man who is hiding behind the car. What happened there?

    The human rights group is convinced, on the basis of the accounts it collected, that the shooting continued from close range as the wounded man lay on the ground. Moreover, B’Tselem believes that the two drivers shot Abdel Fattah with no justification, after he had moved away from the car and was kneeling behind the dumpster. According to the organization, the security forces who arrived at the scene made no attempt to arrest the two settlers, quickly dispersed the Palestinians and then proceeded to go to the stores and delete the documentation of the event “to ensure that the truth never comes to light and the shooters would not face any charges or be held accountable in any way.”

    It was reported this week that the Samaria Regional Council has decided to award citations to the two settler-shooters.

    The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit this week sent Haaretz this response: “On April 3, 2019 there was an attempted stabbing attack at the Beitot junction, which is [within the purview of] the Samaria Division of the IDF Central Command. The terrorist was shot by citizens and subdued after he threw stones at Israeli cars and then approached one of the cars in order to perpetrate a stabbing attack in the area. At the site of the incident a knife used by the terrorist was found. We would like to point out that the cameras that were dismantled by the security forces as part of their investigation of the incident were returned to their owners. The incident is under investigation.”

    Khirbet Qeis. A small village below the town of Salfit, in the central West Bank, where Abdel Fattah’s parents live. His father, Abed al-Muneim Abdel Fattah, 50, is a night watchman in Ramallah, who has five other children in addition to Mohammed. The house is well kept. Mohammed, the eldest, completed high school, but “regrettably,” his father says, he did not pursue his studies and went to work. In October 2017, he married his cousin, Rada Awadala, from the village of Ein Ariq, near Ramallah, and their daughter Jawan was born last fall. They visited every second Friday, rotating weekends between Rada’s parents in Ein Ariq and Mohammed’s in Khirbet Qeis.

    On the last Friday of Mohammed’s life they were at the home of his in-laws. The next day, when he and Rada went on an organized tour to Jerusalem and Jaffa, they left Jawan with her maternal grandparents. When they got back, Rada went to her parents’ home to collect the baby and stayed there for a few days. Mohammed remained alone in their apartment in Beita, close to his place of work.

    Mohammed’s father was on the job in Ramallah the day his son died. A relative called to inform him that Mohammed had been wounded. Shortly afterward, a Shin Bet security service agent called and ordered him to come to the IDF base at Hawara, Abed tells us now. The agent informed him that his son had tried to stab a soldier and afterward corrected himself to say that his son had thrown stones. The father replied that it was unimaginable for his son to have done that.

    Abed was asked in his interrogation whether Mohammed had been active in any sort of movement, whether anyone had tried to persuade him to throw stones or carry out a stabbing attack, whether he suffered from mental problems or problems at home or at work, or whether perhaps he’d quarreled with his wife. The father replied that his son had no family or other problems and was never active in any group. The interrogator repeated the questions twice, then a third time.

    At this point Abed still didn’t yet know that his son was dead. The Shin Bet agent said he’d been wounded and taken to Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva. He recommended that Abed get in touch with the Palestinian District Coordination and Liaison Office to arrange an entry permit to visit his son in Israel. Finally the agent said to the father, “From now on, you and your children are under surveillance. Dir balak [Watch your step]. Take this as a warning, as a red light. Anyone who lifts his head – we’ll cut it off.”

    Abed was at the base in Hawara for nearly three hours. By the time he got home, almost the whole village had gathered next to his house, and he understood that his son was dead. The social networks said he had been killed by settlers.

    Why was he throwing stones, we asked. Abed: “I don’t believe he did anything like that. He was on the way to work. But even if he did, sometimes the settlers provoke people who are standing on the road, spit at them or curse them or try to run them over. Even if he threw stones, by then he wasn’t endangering anyone. After all, the law says that it’s forbidden to shoot someone who is lying on the ground. Arrest him. But why did you kill him?”

    Israel has not yet returned Mohammed Abdel Fattah’s body; all the family’s efforts to claim it have been rebuffed. His grave has already been dug in the village’s small cemetery. There’s a mound of earth there now, but the grave is empty.

    https://seenthis.net/messages/771991

  • Ahead of IPO, Uber’s Losing Less—but Growing Less Too | WIRED
    https://www.wired.com/story/ubers-losing-less-moneybut-growing-less-too

    THE YEAR OF the gig economy IPO continues, as Uber on Thursday made public its first bit of official paperwork with the Securities and Exchange Commission, a sign that the firm is preparing to list its shares on the New York Stock Exchange. The filing shows a sprawling transportation business with operations in 63 countries and 700 cities, providing 5.2 billion rides in 2018—roughly one for every person in Europe and Asia.

    Uber pulled in $11.3 billion in revenue in 2018, a 42 percent jump over the year before. And though its operating losses are still heavy—$3 billion in 2018—the company has slowed the bleeding, at least a bit, bringing operating losses down from $4.1 billion in 2017. Uber had 91 million active users at the end of 2018, 23 million more than a year earlier. Revenue growth, however, fell by half in 2018. This is due in part to the increasing might of Lyft, which is now snapping up users faster than its larger rival, but also because of tightening competition in meal delivery, where Uber’s big success story, Eats, is no longer growing as quickly.

    Still, the company is reportedly expected to go public at a valuation of $90 billion to $100 billion, which would make it the largest US tech IPO in the past half-decade. (Facebook went public in 2012 at a $104 billion valuation.)

    Uber is ride-hail; Uber is e-scooters and ebikes; Uber is a burgeoning delivery business; Uber is trucking and logistics software; Uber wants to build a fully functional self-driving car. And Uber only wants to get bigger: “Today, Uber accounts for less than 1 percent of all miles driven globally,” CEO Dara Khosrowshahi wrote in a letter included in the filing. “Because we are not even 1 percent done with our work, we will operate with an eye toward the future.”

    But the filing also depicts a company struggling to recover from its messy past. The company said it lost “hundreds of thousands” of customers in early 2017, when its drivers continued to operate in airports during protests against the Trump administration’s immigration restrictions on visitors from Muslim countries; that led to the #DeleteUber campaign. The filing notes reams of bad press stemming from accusations of sexual harassment, discrimination, and a then-toxic company culture. It also references, obliquely, investigations into its Greyball tool, software that attempted to circumvent regulation in cities that did not want the company operating on its roads. These events prompted, if not presaged, today’s tech-lash. And from a business standpoint, the company says that history has made it more difficult for Uber to retain users, stay on the right side of important city and federal regulators, and to avoid writing very large checks to lawyers, who are representing Uber in lawsuits and investigations around the world.

    Now, as it prepares to go public, Uber faces critical questions. What happens if the company fails to achieve profitability … ever? Uber believes it will need to invest in finding new users, be they riders, drivers, restaurants, or shippers—and use incentives, discounts, and promotions to do it. (More than $3 billion, over a third of total operating costs, went to sales and marketing last year.) It will need to pour money into new markets and operations. It will need to keep finding new employees and drivers. It will have to write checks for expensive “flying taxi” and autonomous vehicle research along the way. (The company acknowledges in the filing that it expects a competitor such as Waymo, General Motors/Cruise, Tesla, Apple, or Zoox to “develop such technologies before us.”)

    “Many of our efforts to generate revenue are new and unproven, and any failure to adequately increase revenue or contain the related costs could prevent us from attaining or increasing profitability,” the company writes in its filing.

    What happens if regulators decide Uber’s drivers are no longer independent contractors, but employees entitled to benefits and more intense oversight? Today, Uber faces litigation and driver protests challenging its core business model all over the globe. The filing notes that more than 60,000 drivers have entered into (or expressed interest in entering into) arbitration over employee misclassification, which the company writes “could result in significant costs to us.” The company also expects to spend significant money recruiting and retaining drivers in the years ahead.

    #Uber #disruption #Börse #Spekulation #IPO

  • Are #neuromorphic chips the future of #ai and #blockchain?
    https://hackernoon.com/are-neuromorphic-chips-the-future-of-ai-and-blockchain-27891de5404c?sour

    Are Neuromorphic Chips the Future of AI and Blockchain?There is no doubt that artificial intelligence (AI) is the driver of a revolution in automation akin to the influence of coal and factory machines on previous industrial revolutions. Jayshree Pandya, writing for Forbes, makes a very interesting point when he suggests that the increasing importance of AI also goes hand in hand with a need for more computing power.He suggests, “There are indicators that raw computing power is on its way to replacing fossil fuels and will be the most valued fuel in the rapidly emerging intelligence age.” The question of course is — where will that computing power come from?The need for more computing powerAI also needs massive amounts of data to produce useful tools. One of the sources of both power and (...)

    #artificial-intelligence

  • German journalist who was held captive and gave birth in Syria speaks of her ordeal | World news | The Guardian
    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/mar/21/german-journalist-who-was-held-captive-and-gave-birth-in-syria-speaks-o

    C’est une bonne chose d’apprendre qu’une jeune femme et son enfant ont survécu un enlèvement en Syrie. Cette jeune allemande a voulu faire ses armes avec un reportage dans une zone de guerre.

    Ses préparatifs font preuve d’une naïveté surprenante avec un résultat conséquent. Sachant qu’il y a d’autres reporters qui ont réuissi des reportages dans la même guerre et au même moment qui ne se sont pas faits kidnapper, je me demande pourquoi elle raconte son histoire et ce faisant expose aux monde entier son incompétence.

    Peut-être les perspective professionelles d’une jeune diplomée en éthnologie et sciences des religions comparées l’obligent à se démarquer du reste de la meute.

    Alors qu’on apprécie les actes qui font preuve d’une grande ambition, quelqu’un qui risque la vie de son enfant pour un scoop dépasse les limites du raisonnable. Qui voudrait ensuite employer et donner des responsabilité à quelqu’un qui est dépourvu de scrupules sur le plan humain et peu réfléchi dans ses démarches professionelles ?

    Derrière le scoop ce cache la triste histoire de la rencontre d’une jeune femme à caractère extrême avec le monde des science qui ne permettent plus à bien des scientifiques de vivre de leur métier.

    Janina Findeisen, who went to Syria when seven months pregnant, was released with her son in September 2016

    Philip Oltermann in Berlin, Thu 21 Mar 2019 19.01 GMT

    A German woman who was abducted in Syria and held captive for nearly a year has revealed how her kidnappers were prepared to “cut off my head in front of a live camera”, but ended up pampering her with chocolate, toys and luxury nappies after she gave birth to a baby boy while in captivity.

    The journalist Janina Findeisen, who was released with her child in September 2016, has spoken for the first time about the circumstances under which she travelled to a war zone on her own when seven months pregnant, and how she managed to survive the ordeal.

    In an interview published in Süddeutsche Zeitung, Findeisen said she travelled to Syria in October 2015 in order to make a documentary about a schoolfriend who had turned to jihad and joined a faction of al-Qaida’s former affiliate in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra.

    Her pregnancy, she said, had spurred her on rather than made her more aware of the risks. “I felt pressured – precisely because of my pregnancy. I wanted to tell this one more story before only being able to pick up work a few months after the birth. I was not aware of the fact that in that moment I was making the biggest mistake of my life.”

    Using a people smuggler in Antakya, southern Turkey, to drive her across the border into Syria, Findeisen said she had only shared her travel plans with the father of her child and not taken a mobile phone or a GPS tracker with her. While conceding that other people could have stopped her from going through with her plans, Findeisen said: “In the end it was my decision, and my mistake.”

    Even though her school friend had promised her in an email that she would not be harmed, Findeisen and her driver were ambushed as they tried to cross over back into Turkey. The then 27-year-old was blindfolded at gunpoint and taken to a house in a remote location.

    “On the first night I really believed that the security guarantee my friend had given me meant I would soon be released. But I soon realised that my hopes were in vain,” said Findeisen, whose book My Room in the House of War is being published in Germany next month. She said she does not believe that her friend was aware of the plan to kidnap her, though members of his group were.

    Asked about treatment while in captivity, Findeisen said: “There were a couple of unpleasant situations, but I fared comparatively well. But nonetheless it was clear that these weren’t nice, humane people […] They would have cut off my head in front of a live camera.”

    While she was held captive, the journalist kept a diary in tiny handwriting, using food packaging after she ran out of paper. She unsuccessfully tried to get the attention of people in neighbouring houses and secretly collected tools that could become handy to facilitate an escape.

    “Until the end I believed that I would be back in Germany for the birth of my child,” Findeisen told her interviewers. “It was unimaginable to me that I would give birth to my child in Syria. I ignored the reality of the situation. Until I could ignore it no more.”

    Her kidnappers blackmailed a doctor to deliver her child, and the birth took place without complications. “Suddenly everything was so very far away: the war, my kidnappers, it was just my son and I. He was so teeny, so fragile, but healthy.”

    After the birth, Findeisen said, her kidnappers’ treatment of her changed: “With a small child I was even more helpless than before. When my son woke at night and screamed, they asked me the next morning what was wrong.” Her abductors brought her chocolate, multivitamin juice and a teddy bear, and did not spare expenses when it came to nappies: “In Syria there are two kinds of nappies: the one kind is known as ‘Assad nappies’ and are quite flimsy. Then there are Molfix, the premium nappy brand there. They brought me those.”

    Asked if she thought that her son would one day reproach her for having him in such precarious circumstances, Findeisen said: “I have thought about that a lot. When the time comes, I will face up to it.”

    Findeisen, who studied ethnology and comparative religion before researching modern jihadism as a journalist, was eventually freed – not by German intelligence services, but another group of Islamists. After hearing shots outside her compound, the journalist found herself surrounded by a group of men in balaclavas who told her they would take her back to Germany.

    The group Jabhat Fateh al-Sham announced in an online statement that it had freed the German woman after a sharia court ruled her kidnapping un-Islamic in the light of the security guarantee given by her friend.

    Findeisen told Süddeutsche Zeitung she believed this to have been the case, and that she was not aware of the German state having paid any of the €5m (£4.3m) ransom her kidnappers had demanded.

    “I got a second chance,” Findeisen said. “Not everyone who got kidnapped [in Syria] was given one.”

    #Allemagne #Syrie #Daech #journalisme

    • The group Jabhat Fateh al-Sham announced in an online statement that it had freed the German woman after a sharia court ruled her kidnapping un-Islamic in the light of the security guarantee given by her friend.

      Vraiment ?...

  • Palestinian youth killed by Israeli forces near Bethlehem
    March 21, 2019 11:15 A.M.
    http://www.maannews.com/Content.aspx?ID=782937

    BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — A 22-year-old Palestinian succumbed to wounds he had sustained after Israeli forces opened heavy fire towards a vehicle that he was riding in, near the al-Nashash checkpoint in the southern occupied West Bank district of Bethlehem, on late Wednesday.

    The Palestinian Ministry of Health confirmed that Ahmad Jamal Mahmoud Munasra, 22, a resident from Wadi Fukin village, in the Bethlehem district, was shot with Israeli live fire in the chest, shoulder, and hand.

    The ministry said that Munasra was transferred to the Beit Jala Governmental Hospital, where he succumbed to his wounds.

    The ministry mentioned that another Palestinian was shot and injured in the stomach.

    #Palestine_assassinée

    • Gideon Levy // Even for the Wild West Bank, This Is a Shocking Story

      A young Palestinian’s attempt to help a stranger shot by Israeli troops costs him his life
      Gideon Levy and Alex Levac Mar 28, 2019
      https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-even-for-the-wild-west-bank-this-is-a-shocking-story-1.7066087

      Jamal, Ahmad Manasra’s father. A mourning poster for Ahmad is in the background. Credit : Alex Levac

      It was appallingly cold, rainy and foggy on Monday of this week at the southern entrance to Bethlehem. A group of young people stood on the side of the road, gazing at something. Gloomy and toughened, they formed a circle around the concrete cube in which are sunken the spikes of a large billboard – an ad for Kia cars that stretches across the road. They were looking for signs of blood, as though they were volunteers in Zaka, the Israeli emergency response organization. They were looking for bloodstains of their friend, who was killed there five days earlier. Behind the concrete cube they found what they were looking for, a large bloodstain, now congealed. The stain held fast despite the heavy rain, as though refusing to be washed away, determined to remain there, a silent monument.

      This is where their friend tried, in his last moments, to find protection from the soldiers who were shooting at him, probably from the armored concrete tower that looms over the intersection a few dozen meters away. It was to here that he fled, already wounded, attempting to take cover behind the concrete cube. But it was too late. His fate was sealed by the soldiers. Six bullets slashed into his body and killed him. He collapsed and died next to the concrete cube by the side of the road.

      Even in a situation in which anything is possible, this is an unbelievable story. It’s 9 P.M. Wednesday March 20. A family is returning from an outing. Their car breaks down. The father of the family, Ala Raida, 38, from the village of Nahalin, who is legally employed paving roads in Israel, steps out of his Volkswagen Golf to see what has happened. His wife, Maisa, 34, and their two daughters, Sirin, 8, and Lin, 5, wait in the car. Suddenly the mother hears a single shot and sees her husband lean back onto the car. Emerging from the car, she discovers to her astonishment that he’s wounded in the stomach. She shouts hysterically for help, the girls in the car are crying and screaming.

      Another car, a Kia Sportage, arrives at the intersection. Its occupants are four young people from the nearby village of Wadi Fukin. They’re on the way home from the wedding of their friend Mahmoud Lahruv, held that evening in the Hall of Dreams in Bethlehem. At the sight of the woman next to the traffic light appealing for help, they stop the car and get out to see what they can do. Three of them quickly carry the wounded man to their car and rush him to the nearest hospital, Al-Yamamah, in the town of Al-Khader. The fourth young man, Ahmad Manasra, 23, stays behind to calm the woman and the frightened girls. Manasra tries to start the stalled car in order to move it away from the dangerous intersection, but the vehicle doesn’t respond. He then gets back out of the car. The soldiers start firing at him. He tries to get to the concrete cube but is struck by the bullets as he runs. Three rounds hit him in the back and chest, the others slam into his lower body. He dies on the spot.

      The army says that stones were thrown. All the eyewitnesses deny that outright. Nor is it clear what the target of the stones might have been. The armored concrete tower? And even if stones were thrown at cars heading for the settlement of Efrat, is that a reason to open fire with live ammunition on a driver whose car broke down, with his wife and young daughters on board? Or on a young man who tried to get the car moving and to calm the mother and her daughters? Shooting with no restraint? With no pity? With no law?

      We visit the skeleton of an unfinished apartment on the second floor of a house in Wadi Fukin. It’s an impoverished West Bank village just over the Green Line, whose residents fled in 1949 and were allowed to return in 1972, and which is now imprisoned between the giant ultra-Orthodox settlement of Betar Ilit and the town of Tzur Hadassah, which is just inside the Green Line. A wood stove tries to rebuff the bitter cold in the broad space between the unplastered walls and the untiled floor. A grim-looking group of men are sitting around the fire, trying to warm themselves. They are the mourners for Manasra; this was going to be his apartment one day, when he got married. That will never happen now.

      Only the memorial posters remain in the unbuilt space. A relative and fellow villager, Adel Atiyah, an ambassador in the Palestinian delegation to the European Union, calls from Brussels to offer his shocked condolences. One of the mourners, Fahmi Manasra, lives in Toronto and is here on a visit to his native land. The atmosphere is dark and pained.

      The bereaved father, Jamal, 50, is resting in his apartment on the ground floor. When he comes upstairs, it’s clear he’s a person deeply immersed in his grief though impressive in his restraint. He’s a tiler who works in Israel with a permit. He last saw his son as he drove along the main street in Bethlehem as his son was going to his friend’s wedding. Jamal was driving his wife, Wafa, home from another wedding. That was about two hours before Ahmad was killed. In the last two days of his life they worked together, Jamal and his son, in the family vineyard, clearing away cuttings and spraying. Now he wistfully remembers those precious moments. Ahmad asked to borrow his father’s car to drive to the wedding, but Jamal needed it to visit the doctor, and Ahmad joined the group in Wahib Manasra’s SUV.

      Wahib Manasra, who witnessed the gunfire. Credit: Alex Levac

      Quiet prevails in the shell of the unfinished apartment. Someone says that Manasra was already planning the layout of his future home – the living room would be here, the kitchen there. Maisa Raida, the wife of the wounded driver, is at her husband’s bedside at Hadassah Medical Center, Ein Karem, Jerusalem, where he’s recovering from his severe stomach wound. He was brought there from Al-Khader because of the seriousness of his condition. Major damage was done to internal organs in his abdomen and he needed complicated surgery, but he seems to be on the mend.

      Maisa told a local field investigator from a human rights group that at first she didn’t realize that her husband was wounded. Only after she stepped out of the car did she see that he was leaning on the vehicle because of the wound. She yelled for help, and after the young men stopped and took her husband to the hospital, she got back into the car with Manasra, whom she didn’t know. While they were in the car with her daughters, and he was trying get it started, she heard another burst of gunfire aimed at their car from the side, but which didn’t hit them.

      She had no idea that Manasra was shot and killed when he got out of the car, moments later. She stayed inside, trying to calm the girls. It wasn’t until she called her father and her brother-in-law and they arrived and took her to Al-Yamamah Hospital that she heard that someone had been killed. Appalled, she thought they meant her husband but was told that the dead person had been taken to Al-Hussein Hospital in Beit Jala.

      Eventually, she realized that the man who was killed was the same young man who tried to help her and her daughters; he was dead on arrival. Before Maisa and her daughters were taken from the scene, an officer and soldiers from the Israel Defense Forces came to the stalled car and tried to calm them.

      Manasra was dead by then, sprawled next to the concrete cube. He was a Real Madrid fan and liked cars. Until recently he worked in the settlement of Hadar Betar, inside Betar Ilit. His little brother, 8-year-old Abdel Rahman, wanders among the mourners in a daze.

      After Jamal Manasra returned home, his phone began ringing nonstop. He decided not to answer. He says he was afraid to answer, he had forebodings from God. He and his wife drove to the hospital in Beit Jala. He has no rational explanation for why they went to the hospital. From God. “I was the last to know,” he says in Hebrew. At the hospital, he was asked whether he was Ahmad’s father. Then he understood. He and his wife have two more sons and a daughter. Ahmad was their firstborn.

      We asked the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit a number of questions. Why did the soldiers shoot Ala Raida and Ahmad Manasra with live ammunition? Why did they go on shooting at Manasra even after he tried to flee? Did the soldiers fire from the armored watchtower? Do the security cameras show that stones were indeed thrown? Were the soldiers in mortal danger?

      This was the IDF’s response to all these questions: “On March 21, a debriefing was held headed by the commander of the Judea and Samaria Division, Brig. Gen. Eran Niv, and the commander of the Etzion territorial brigade, Col. David Shapira, in the area of the event that took place on Thursday [actually, it was a Wednesday] at the Efrat junction and at the entrance to Bethlehem. From the debriefing it emerges that an IDF fighter who was on guard at a military position near the intersection spotted a suspect who was throwing stones at vehicles in the area and carried out the procedure for arresting a suspect, which ended in shooting. As a result of the shooting, the suspect was killed and another Palestinian was wounded.

      T he West Bank settlement of Betar Ilit is seen from the rooftop of Wadi Fukin, a Palestinian village. Credit : \ Alex Levac

      “The possibility is being examined that there was friction between Palestinians, which included stone-throwing.

      “The inquiry into the event continues, parallel to the opening of an investigation by the Military Police.”

      After the group of young people found what they were looking for – bloodstains of their friend, Ahmad – they reconstructed for us the events of that horrific evening. It was important for them to talk to an Israeli journalist. They’re the three who came out alive from the drive home after the wedding. One of them, Ahmad Manasra – he has the same name as the young man who was killed – wouldn’t get out of the car when we were there. He’s still traumatized. Wahib Manasra, the driver of the SUV, showed us where the stalled VW had been, and where they stopped when they saw a woman shouting for help.

      Soldiers and security cameras viewed us even now, from the watchtower, which is no more than 30 meters from the site. Wahib says that if there was stone-throwing, or if they had noticed soldiers, they wouldn’t have stopped and gotten out of the car. Raida, the wounded man, kept mumbling, “My daughters, my daughters,” when they approached him. He leaned on them and they put him in their car. By the time they reached the gas station down the road, he had lost consciousness. Before that, he again mumbled, “My daughters.”

      Wahib and the other Ahmad, the one who was alive, returned quickly from the hospital, which is just a few minutes from the site. But they could no longer get close to the scene, as a great many cars were congregated there. They got out of the car and proceeded on foot. A Palestinian ambulance went by. Looking through the window, Wahib saw to his horror his friend, Ahmad Manasra, whom they had left on the road with the woman and her girls, lying inside. He saw at once that Ahmad was dead.

  • Uber is creating a new gig economy that turns workers into customers.
    https://slate.com/technology/2019/03/uber-gig-workers-customers.html

    Uber brings the technology culture of Silicon Valley to the world of work. Facebook sparked a public outcry after it quietly experimented with the psychological states of select users by displaying happier or sadder posts to them in their news feed to study the effects of emotional contagion. People were outraged both because they didn’t want to be the unwitting subjects of mood experimentation, and also because the experiment contradicted the idea that a neutral, objective, and benevolent algorithm curates their news feed. Similarly, Uber experimented with driver pay by implementing upfront pricing without alerting drivers or adjusting their contracts, until months later, after drivers crowdsourced evidence of a new pay policy.

    When Uber takes advantage of the unwitting users of its technology, it could be within its rights to do so, though its particular machinations actually contradict the company’s own description of its business model: In legal forums and in its contracts with drivers, the company says it provides a platform that connects all its users, implying that its technology is neutral, like a credit card processor. In one court hearing, Uber’s lawyers used rough metaphors to explain this logic in oral arguments, saying, “People demand ice cream. We have vendors, vendors who produce ice cream that are able, through our software, demanded—on demand to people that want ice cream. We facilitate that transaction. We’re not in the ice cream business, you know.”

    But Uber is in the figurative ice cream business. Uber monitors drivers through the data they generate on the job and controls their workplace behavior through various methods, from in-app behavioral nudges that influence when and where drivers work to the threat of account deactivation if drivers don’t follow some of Uber’s behavioral “suggestions.” Yet Uber also explicitly adopts a model of customer service communications in managing its workers as if they were mere consumers. In fact, beyond intense supervision, Uber controls drivers by creating an appeals process that limits their ability to find resolutions to their concerns.

    The very vocabulary that Uber deploys to describe its drivers and its own practices reinforces this view of labor: It treats its workers as “end users” and “customers” of its software. The terms are used in Uber’s lawsuits, and a senior Uber employee casually referred to the company’s workforce as “end users” in conversation with me. The rhetorical impact of that language is clever. By fudging the terms of employment within its control, Uber provides us with a template for questioning what we know about employment relationships that can create legal distance between a worker and an employer. And it ushers in a new way of doing business all while the same old problems, like workplace harassment, persist under the veneer of technological neutrality.

    The central conflict of how to categorize a driver—and how to consider work in the sharing economy more broadly—animates the conflict between labor advocates and Uber. And Uber’s defense of their labor practices articulate dynamic changes in how employment and consumption are negotiated in digital spaces. The question in this new economy is whether algorithmic management really creates a qualitative distinction between work and consumption. Because by encouraging this distinction and describing its technology as a way to merely connect two groups of users, Uber can have its cake and eat it too, avoiding responsibility for prospective labor law violations while its ostensibly neutral algorithms give the company vast leverage over how drivers do their work.

    #Uber #Industrie_influence #Travail

  • » Updated: Army Kills Two Palestinians, Injures One, Near Ramallah
    IMEMC News - March 4, 2019 10:01 AM
    http://imemc.org/article/army-kills-two-palestinians-injures-one-near-ramallah

    Israeli soldiers killed, on Monday at dawn, two Palestinians, and injured one, after the army alleged they tried to ram them with their car, wounding two soldiers, in Kafr Ni’ma village, west of the central West Bank city of Ramallah.

    Yousef Anqawi
    The slain Palestinians have been identified as Amir Mahmoud Darraj , 20, from Kharbatha al-Misbah village, and Yousef Raed Anqawi, 20, from Beit Sira village, west of Ramallah.
    Amir Daraj
    The wounded young man has been identified as Bassem Jom’a Alqam, 20, from Safa village, west of Ramallah.

    The Israeli army stated that two of its soldiers were injured, one seriously, when the Palestinian car “rammed into them in the village,” and added that the soldiers opened fire at the car, killing two and mildly wounded a third.

    It added that the soldiers stopped to the side of the road, close to the exit of the village, when the car reportedly rammed them.

    The army also stated that its “investigation concluded that the incident was a deliberate attack, and not an accident.”

    The army said the soldiers had to stop on the side of the road due to a mechanical error with their jeep, before the Palestinian car rammed into them.

    Palestinian sources said that the incident was a traffic accident, and not a ramming attack as the military claims, as the driver and his passengers could not see the soldiers before hitting them with the car. (...)

    #Palestine_assassinée

    • FM urges ICC to speed up investigation after killing of 2 Palestinians
      March 4, 2019 4:27 P.M. (Updated: March 4, 2019 4:27 P.M.)
      http://www.maannews.com/Content.aspx?id=782747

      RAMALLAH (Ma’an) — The Palestinian Foreign Ministry urged the International Criminal Court (ICC) to speed up its investigation of Israeli crimes against Palestinians, the latest one was the killing of two Palestinian youths and injuring another near the central occupied West Bank city of Ramallah, on Monday.

      Israeli forces shot and killed two killed Palestinians as Amir Mahmoud Jumaa Darraj , 20, from the Kharbatha al-Misbah village, and Youssef Raed Mahmoud Anqawi , 20, from Beit Sira, while on their way to their workplace.

      The ministry issued a statement describing the killing as “a heinous crime committed in cold blood” and as an “extrajudicial execution.”

      The ministry also called for holding accountable Israeli officials, who gave orders to soldiers to open fire and kill Palestinians at will. (...)

    • PCHR Refutes Israeli Claims About Alleged Car-Ramming
      March 7, 2019 6:03 AM
      http://imemc.org/article/pchr-refutes-israeli-claims-about-alleged-car-ramming

      An investigation, conducted on Tuesday by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), has refuted Israeli claims about the alleged car-ramming attack in western Ramallah, describing what happened as a “new crime of excessive use of force.”

      “At early dawn hours of Monday, 04 March 2019, in new crime of excessive use of lethal force against Palestinian civilians, Israeli forces killed two Palestinian civilians in Kafur Nei’mah village, west of Ramallah, and wounded another one,” PCHR started, its investigative report.

      “The Israeli forces claimed that the three civilians carried out a run-over attack, which resulted in the injury of two Israeli soldiers. Other Israeli soldiers opened fire at them, killing two of them and wounding another one,” the report added, according to Days of Palestine.

      However, “investigations and eyewitnesses’ statements refute the Israeli forces’ claims. The eyewitnesses said that the three civilians were heading to their work at a bakery, where they should be at early hours. While the civilians were on their way to work, they were surprised with Israeli vehicles and crashed one of them. As a result, the civilians’ car hood was damaged,” the report elaborated. (...)

  • #apple and #uber lagging in self-driving car league table
    https://hackernoon.com/apple-and-uber-lagging-in-self-driving-car-league-table-ac5162e8f43c?sou

    Self-driving cars are frequently in the news. The technology has progressed strongly, but we’re nowhere near ‘perfect’ yet. There are a significant number of companies working on test vehicles, especially in California, with the focus on improving safety and the cars’ software capabilities. As Niall McCarthy, a data analyst at Statista writes in Forbes, “Disengagements, and the reasons they occur, are a key part of that test process.” What are ‘disengagements’? A disengagement is what happens when the car’s software detects a problem, or the driver sees some danger coming, and is then able to take control of the car, so it is no longer self-driving.According to data from the California DMV published by website The Last License Holder, test models experience different levels of disengagement. (...)

    #cars-market-share #self-driving-cars #automotive-market-share

  • New report exposes global reach of powerful governments who equip, finance and train other countries to spy on their populations

    Privacy International has today released a report that looks at how powerful governments are financing, training and equipping countries — including authoritarian regimes — with surveillance capabilities. The report warns that rather than increasing security, this is entrenching authoritarianism.

    Countries with powerful security agencies are spending literally billions to equip, finance, and train security and surveillance agencies around the world — including authoritarian regimes. This is resulting in entrenched authoritarianism, further facilitation of abuse against people, and diversion of resources from long-term development programmes.

    The report, titled ‘Teach ’em to Phish: State Sponsors of Surveillance’ is available to download here.

    Examples from the report include:

    In 2001, the US spent $5.7 billion in security aid. In 2017 it spent over $20 billion [1]. In 2015, military and non-military security assistance in the US amounted to an estimated 35% of its entire foreign aid expenditure [2]. The report provides examples of how US Departments of State, Defense, and Justice all facilitate foreign countries’ surveillance capabilities, as well as an overview of how large arms companies have embedded themselves into such programmes, including at surveillance training bases in the US. Examples provided include how these agencies have provided communications intercept and other surveillance technology, how they fund wiretapping programmes, and how they train foreign spy agencies in surveillance techniques around the world.

    The EU and individual European countries are sponsoring surveillance globally. The EU is already spending billions developing border control and surveillance capabilities in foreign countries to deter migration to Europe. For example, the EU is supporting Sudan’s leader with tens of millions of Euros aimed at capacity building for border management. The EU is now looking to massively increase its expenditure aimed at building border control and surveillance capabilities globally under the forthcoming Multiannual Financial Framework, which will determine its budget for 2021–2027. Other EU projects include developing the surveillance capabilities of security agencies in Tunisia, Burkina Faso, Somalia, Iraq and elsewhere. European countries such as France, Germany, and the UK are sponsoring surveillance worldwide, for example, providing training and equipment to “Cyber Police Officers” in Ukraine, as well as to agencies in Saudi Arabia, and across Africa.

    Surveillance capabilities are also being supported by China’s government under the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ and other efforts to expand into international markets. Chinese companies have reportedly supplied surveillance capabilities to Bolivia, Venezuela, and Ecuador [3]. In Ecuador, China Electronics Corporation supplied a network of cameras — including some fitted with facial recognition capabilities — to the country’s 24 provinces, as well as a system to locate and identify mobile phones.

    Edin Omanovic, Privacy International’s Surveillance Programme Lead, said

    “The global rush to make sure that surveillance is as universal and pervasive as possible is as astonishing as it is disturbing. The breadth of institutions, countries, agencies, and arms companies that are involved shows how there is no real long-term policy or strategic thinking driving any of this. It’s a free-for-all, where capabilities developed by some of the world’s most powerful spy agencies are being thrown at anyone willing to serve their interests, including dictators and killers whose only goal is to cling to power.

    “If these ‘benefactor’ countries truly want to assist other countries to be secure and stable, they should build schools, hospitals, and other infrastructure, and promote democracy and human rights. This is what communities need for safety, security, and prosperity. What we don’t need is powerful and wealthy countries giving money to arms companies to build border control and surveillance infrastructure. This only serves the interests of those powerful, wealthy countries. As our report shows, instead of putting resources into long-term development solutions, such programmes further entrench authoritarianism and spur abuses around the world — the very things which cause insecurity in the first place.”

    https://privacyinternational.org/press-release/2161/press-release-new-report-exposes-global-reach-powerful-governm

    #surveillance #surveillance_de_masse #rapport

    Pour télécharger le rapport “Teach ’em to Phish: State Sponsors of Surveillance”:
    https://privacyinternational.org/sites/default/files/2018-07/Teach-em-to-Phish-report.pdf

    ping @fil

    • China Uses DNA to Track Its People, With the Help of American Expertise

      The Chinese authorities turned to a Massachusetts company and a prominent Yale researcher as they built an enormous system of surveillance and control.

      The authorities called it a free health check. Tahir Imin had his doubts.

      They drew blood from the 38-year-old Muslim, scanned his face, recorded his voice and took his fingerprints. They didn’t bother to check his heart or kidneys, and they rebuffed his request to see the results.

      “They said, ‘You don’t have the right to ask about this,’” Mr. Imin said. “‘If you want to ask more,’ they said, ‘you can go to the police.’”

      Mr. Imin was one of millions of people caught up in a vast Chinese campaign of surveillance and oppression. To give it teeth, the Chinese authorities are collecting DNA — and they got unlikely corporate and academic help from the United States to do it.

      China wants to make the country’s Uighurs, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group, more subservient to the Communist Party. It has detained up to a million people in what China calls “re-education” camps, drawing condemnation from human rights groups and a threat of sanctions from the Trump administration.

      Collecting genetic material is a key part of China’s campaign, according to human rights groups and Uighur activists. They say a comprehensive DNA database could be used to chase down any Uighurs who resist conforming to the campaign.

      Police forces in the United States and elsewhere use genetic material from family members to find suspects and solve crimes. Chinese officials, who are building a broad nationwide database of DNA samples, have cited the crime-fighting benefits of China’s own genetic studies.

      To bolster their DNA capabilities, scientists affiliated with China’s police used equipment made by Thermo Fisher, a Massachusetts company. For comparison with Uighur DNA, they also relied on genetic material from people around the world that was provided by #Kenneth_Kidd, a prominent #Yale_University geneticist.

      On Wednesday, #Thermo_Fisher said it would no longer sell its equipment in Xinjiang, the part of China where the campaign to track Uighurs is mostly taking place. The company said separately in an earlier statement to The New York Times that it was working with American officials to figure out how its technology was being used.

      Dr. Kidd said he had been unaware of how his material and know-how were being used. He said he believed Chinese scientists were acting within scientific norms that require informed consent by DNA donors.

      China’s campaign poses a direct challenge to the scientific community and the way it makes cutting-edge knowledge publicly available. The campaign relies in part on public DNA databases and commercial technology, much of it made or managed in the United States. In turn, Chinese scientists have contributed Uighur DNA samples to a global database, potentially violating scientific norms of consent.

      Cooperation from the global scientific community “legitimizes this type of genetic surveillance,” said Mark Munsterhjelm, an assistant professor at the University of Windsor in Ontario who has closely tracked the use of American technology in Xinjiang.

      Swabbing Millions

      In Xinjiang, in northwestern China, the program was known as “#Physicals_for_All.”

      From 2016 to 2017, nearly 36 million people took part in it, according to Xinhua, China’s official news agency. The authorities collected DNA samples, images of irises and other personal data, according to Uighurs and human rights groups. It is unclear whether some residents participated more than once — Xinjiang has a population of about 24.5 million.

      In a statement, the Xinjiang government denied that it collects DNA samples as part of the free medical checkups. It said the DNA machines that were bought by the Xinjiang authorities were for “internal use.”

      China has for decades maintained an iron grip in Xinjiang. In recent years, it has blamed Uighurs for a series of terrorist attacks in Xinjiang and elsewhere in China, including a 2013 incident in which a driver struck two people in Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

      In late 2016, the Communist Party embarked on a campaign to turn the Uighurs and other largely Muslim minority groups into loyal supporters. The government locked up hundreds of thousands of them in what it called job training camps, touted as a way to escape poverty, backwardness and radical Islam. It also began to take DNA samples.

      In at least some of the cases, people didn’t give up their genetic material voluntarily. To mobilize Uighurs for the free medical checkups, police and local cadres called or sent them text messages, telling them the checkups were required, according to Uighurs interviewed by The Times.

      “There was a pretty strong coercive element to it,” said Darren Byler, an anthropologist at the University of Washington who studies the plight of the Uighurs. “They had no choice.”

      Calling Dr. Kidd

      Kenneth Kidd first visited China in 1981 and remained curious about the country. So when he received an invitation in 2010 for an expenses-paid trip to visit Beijing, he said yes.

      Dr. Kidd is a major figure in the genetics field. The 77-year-old Yale professor has helped to make DNA evidence more acceptable in American courts.

      His Chinese hosts had their own background in law enforcement. They were scientists from the Ministry of Public Security — essentially, China’s police.

      During that trip, Dr. Kidd met Li Caixia, the chief forensic physician of the ministry’s Institute of Forensic Science. The relationship deepened. In December 2014, Dr. Li arrived at Dr. Kidd’s lab for an 11-month stint. She took some DNA samples back to China.

      “I had thought we were sharing samples for collaborative research,” said Dr. Kidd.

      Dr. Kidd is not the only prominent foreign geneticist to have worked with the Chinese authorities. Bruce Budowle, a professor at the University of North Texas, says in his online biography that he “has served or is serving” as a member of an academic committee at the ministry’s Institute of Forensic Science.

      Jeff Carlton, a university spokesman, said in a statement that Professor Budowle’s role with the ministry was “only symbolic in nature” and that he had “done no work on its behalf.”

      “Dr. Budowle and his team abhor the use of DNA technology to persecute ethnic or religious groups,” Mr. Carlton said in the statement. “Their work focuses on criminal investigations and combating human trafficking to serve humanity.”

      Dr. Kidd’s data became part of China’s DNA drive.

      In 2014, ministry researchers published a paper describing a way for scientists to tell one ethnic group from another. It cited, as an example, the ability to distinguish Uighurs from Indians. The authors said they used 40 DNA samples taken from Uighurs in China and samples from other ethnic groups from Dr. Kidd’s Yale lab.

      In patent applications filed in China in 2013 and 2017, ministry researchers described ways to sort people by ethnicity by screening their genetic makeup. They took genetic material from Uighurs and compared it with DNA from other ethnic groups. In the 2017 filing, researchers explained that their system would help in “inferring the geographical origin from the DNA of suspects at crime scenes.”

      For outside comparisons, they used DNA samples provided by Dr. Kidd’s lab, the 2017 filing said. They also used samples from the 1000 Genomes Project, a public catalog of genes from around the world.

      Paul Flicek, member of the steering committee of the 1000 Genomes Project, said that its data was unrestricted and that “there is no obvious problem” if it was being used as a way to determine where a DNA sample came from.

      The data flow also went the other way.

      Chinese government researchers contributed the data of 2,143 Uighurs to the Allele Frequency Database, an online search platform run by Dr. Kidd that was partly funded by the United States Department of Justice until last year. The database, known as Alfred, contains DNA data from more than 700 populations around the world.

      This sharing of data could violate scientific norms of informed consent because it is not clear whether the Uighurs volunteered their DNA samples to the Chinese authorities, said Arthur Caplan, the founding head of the division of medical ethics at New York University’s School of Medicine. He said that “no one should be in a database without express consent.”

      “Honestly, there’s been a kind of naïveté on the part of American scientists presuming that other people will follow the same rules and standards wherever they come from,” Dr. Caplan said.

      Dr. Kidd said he was “not particularly happy” that the ministry had cited him in its patents, saying his data shouldn’t be used in ways that could allow people or institutions to potentially profit from it. If the Chinese authorities used data they got from their earlier collaborations with him, he added, there is little he can do to stop them.

      He said he was unaware of the filings until he was contacted by The Times.

      Dr. Kidd also said he considered his collaboration with the ministry to be no different from his work with police and forensics labs elsewhere. He said governments should have access to data about minorities, not just the dominant ethnic group, in order to have an accurate picture of the whole population.

      As for the consent issue, he said the burden of meeting that standard lay with the Chinese researchers, though he said reports about what Uighurs are subjected to in China raised some difficult questions.

      “I would assume they had appropriate informed consent on the samples,” he said, “though I must say what I’ve been hearing in the news recently about the treatment of the Uighurs raises concerns.”
      Machine Learning

      In 2015, Dr. Kidd and Dr. Budowle spoke at a genomics conference in the Chinese city of Xi’an. It was underwritten in part by Thermo Fisher, a company that has come under intense criticism for its equipment sales in China, and Illumina, a San Diego company that makes gene sequencing instruments. Illumina did not respond to requests for comment.

      China is ramping up spending on health care and research. The Chinese market for gene-sequencing equipment and other technologies was worth $1 billion in 2017 and could more than double in five years, according to CCID Consulting, a research firm. But the Chinese market is loosely regulated, and it isn’t always clear where the equipment goes or to what uses it is put.

      Thermo Fisher sells everything from lab instruments to forensic DNA testing kits to DNA mapping machines, which help scientists decipher a person’s ethnicity and identify diseases to which he or she is particularly vulnerable. China accounted for 10 percent of Thermo Fisher’s $20.9 billion in revenue, according to the company’s 2017 annual report, and it employs nearly 5,000 people there.

      “Our greatest success story in emerging markets continues to be China,” it said in the report.

      China used Thermo Fisher’s equipment to map the genes of its people, according to five Ministry of Public Security patent filings.

      The company has also sold equipment directly to the authorities in Xinjiang, where the campaign to control the Uighurs has been most intense. At least some of the equipment was intended for use by the police, according to procurement documents. The authorities there said in the documents that the machines were important for DNA inspections in criminal cases and had “no substitutes in China.”

      In February 2013, six ministry researchers credited Thermo Fisher’s Applied Biosystems brand, as well as other companies, with helping to analyze the DNA samples of Han, Uighur and Tibetan people in China, according to a patent filing. The researchers said understanding how to differentiate between such DNA samples was necessary for fighting terrorism “because these cases were becoming more difficult to crack.”

      The researchers said they had obtained 95 Uighur DNA samples, some of which were given to them by the police. Other samples were provided by Uighurs voluntarily, they said.

      Thermo Fisher was criticized by Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, and others who asked the Commerce Department to prohibit American companies from selling technology to China that could be used for purposes of surveillance and tracking.

      On Wednesday, Thermo Fisher said it would stop selling its equipment in Xinjiang, a decision it said was “consistent with Thermo Fisher’s values, ethics code and policies.”

      “As the world leader in serving science, we recognize the importance of considering how our products and services are used — or may be used — by our customers,” it said.

      Human rights groups praised Thermo Fisher’s move. Still, they said, equipment and information flows into China should be better monitored, to make sure the authorities elsewhere don’t send them to Xinjiang.

      “It’s an important step, and one hopes that they apply the language in their own statement to commercial activity across China, and that other companies are assessing their sales and operations, especially in Xinjiang,” said Sophie Richardson, the China director of Human Rights Watch.

      American lawmakers and officials are taking a hard look at the situation in Xinjiang. The Trump administration is considering sanctions against Chinese officials and companies over China’s treatment of the Uighurs.

      China’s tracking campaign unnerved people like Tahir Hamut. In May 2017, the police in the city of Urumqi in Xinjiang drew the 49-year-old Uighur’s blood, took his fingerprints, recorded his voice and took a scan of his face. He was called back a month later for what he was told was a free health check at a local clinic.

      Mr. Hamut, a filmmaker who is now living in Virginia, said he saw between 20 to 40 Uighurs in line. He said it was absurd to think that such frightened people had consented to submit their DNA.

      “No one in this situation, not under this much pressure and facing such personal danger, would agree to give their blood samples for research,” Mr. Hamut said. “It’s just inconceivable.”

      https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/21/business/china-xinjiang-uighur-dna-thermo-fisher.html?action=click&module=MoreInSect
      #USA #Etats-Unis #ADN #DNA #Ouïghours #université #science #génétique #base_de_données

  • Where does a tip to an #Amazon driver go? In some cases, toward the driver’s base pay - Los Angeles Times
    https://www.latimes.com/business/technology/la-fi-tn-amazon-drivers-tips-20190207-story.html

    Amazon at times dips into the tips earned by contracted delivery drivers to cover their promised pay, a Times review of emails and receipts reveals.
    Amazon guarantees third-party drivers for its Flex program a minimum of $18 to $25 per hour, but the entirety of that payment doesn’t always come from the company. If Amazon’s contribution doesn’t reach the guaranteed wage, the e-commerce giant makes up the difference with tips from customers, according to documentation shared by five drivers.

    In emails to drivers, Amazon acknowledges it can use “any supplemental earnings” to meet the promised minimum should the company’s own contribution fall short.

    “We add any supplemental earnings required to meet our commitment that delivery partners earn $18-$25 per hour,” the company wrote in multiple emails reviewed by The Times.

    #sans_vergogne #cupidité