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Uber vs. Philly cabs: Which is safer?

Uber wants you to think its ridesharing service is the “safest ride in Philadelphia.” The Philadelphia Parking Authority is against Uber (in part, at least) because it believes Uber’s insurance policy doesn’t  adequately protect consumers. What exactly is the risk when you climb into an Uber, or if you take a cab? And how screwed are you if you end up in an accident in either one?

Billy Penn read the fine print so you don’t have to — we promise it won’t be boring.

I want to take an UberX. What should I know about insurance that I’m clicking past in their user agreement?

Well, you are insured when you hop into one. In Philadelphia, Uber insures its passengers up to $1.5 million in damages during UberX and Uber Black rides. On the surface, it sounds like a pretty good deal, especially compared to cabs. There are complications, though. We’ll get to that later.   

What is the deal with cab insurance?  

Cabs in Pennsylvania are required by law to insure an individual passenger up to just $15,000 per person, and $30,000 for all the people involved in an accident. Those amounts haven’t risen since 1974. The PPA’s guidelines aren’t any stricter. According to spokesperson Martin O’Rourke, Philly cabs operate with the same minimum standards.

If it doesn’t sound like much to you, you’re right. Lawmakers have been saying those minimums should be raised for over a decade.

Basically, the PPA has been criticizing Uber for its insurance coverage even though the cabs it regulates have been consistently criticized for not providing enough coverage themselves.

So it kind of sounds like the pot is calling the kettle black.

The pot kind of is. But only kind of — because it’s complicated!

While Uber provides coverage worth more than 42 times as much as local cabs, you still have to file a claim with Uber, which then files claims with its provider. And if you know anything about filing claims with businesses — or even insurance companies — it’s never easy. They will do anything they can to not pay out those claims.

Uber is no different, according to regulators. Samuel Marshall, president of the Insurance Federation of Pennsylvania, wrote an editorial in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review last July saying there were too many holes in its coverage, and it could be a complicated process to tell whether the driver’s insurance or Uber’s insurance is the primary one, in case of an accident.

Uber claims its $1.5 million coverage is the primary insurance during the duration of an accepted ride and that insurance coverage wouldn’t first revert to the driver. J. Robert Hunter, director of insurance with the Consumer Federation of America, told Billy Penn that individual cases might hinge on legal arguments.

Though there have been no documented cases involving legal disputes between Uber and its passengers in Pennsylvania, California has seen a few. In Los Angeles, two UberX passengers have sued Uber over an accident. Their lawyer claims Uber first told them to contact their driver for his insurance, and the drivers’ insurance wouldn’t cover them. Uber claimed their insurance policy would have covered those two passengers but that they instead chose to file the lawsuit.

But the state approved Uber just about everywhere except Philly, right?  

Yup. The state approved ride-sharing services for the next couple of years (not in Philly), so lawmakers apparently thought its insurance policies were adequate enough.

Then, what’s the hang up between the PPA and Uber’s insurance policies? 

The PPA is pretty vague on this one. O’Rourke said “any vehicle that is being used for commercial (for-hire) service must be insured as such. Otherwise, the public is at risk.” He’s referring to Uber not requiring its drivers to have commercial driver insurance policies. Uber has been inconsistent on insuring drivers or others involved in accidents between a drivers’ trips. Buzzfeed recently reported that Uber steers its drivers to purchase insurance that won’t adequately protect them when they’re driving around looking for fares.

Will cab companies be tough to deal with, too, if I get in an accident?

Does a cab driver complain when you try to use a credit card? Of course it’ll be an ordeal. That’s why personal injury lawyers exist. The Inquirer has done a nice job of cataloguing the horror stories. A few months ago, the Inquirer featured Tiffany Springman, whose medical costs from a cab accident totaled over $58,000. The cab company paid the $15,000 it owed her only after she filed suit.   

So what should I take if I really, really, really want to minimize risk — an Uber or a taxi?

Your bike.

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