These days, as the income gap between the wealthy and the working poor grows unchecked, it is time for people of conscience to stand up for those being left behind. That is why we are asking the Los Angeles City Council to allow taxicab and rideshare drivers to continue to attach digital advertising signs to their vehicles.
These drivers are part of the unstable “gig” economy, which means they work without benefits, paid vacation or a 401(k) plan. They earn a small amount for every trip they make, and the fares they can charge have been repeatedly decreased, as Uber and Lyft artificially depress fares for their IPOs, and the taxi drivers are forced to follow suit.
Firefly’s signs have put a little extra money into the pockets of drivers in need so they can better support their families and communities. Most of the drivers who benefit from the extra $300 they’re guaranteed every month don’t have the bandwidth to worry about beautification. They simply want to make enough to feed their families — and keep a roof over their heads. That is what this extra money equates to for many of them: It might be gas money so they can continue working that month, or repairs to a shaky axle or even a rare day at the beach with their kids this summer. For all too many, an additional $300 is an opportunity for once to stop choosing between paying bills and buying groceries, a catch-22 that continues to ensnare the working poor.
We understand the city council is worried about blight, but truly, that is only a concern for people who have food, housing and income security. It’s time for all Angelinos to rethink the problem and reframe the conversation.
Because this is a debate about economic justice and social equity. By disallowing the signs, we are asking for sacrifices from people who are already struggling. These drivers are earning extra money doing something that is perfectly legal under current law. We should leave it alone and allow them to continue to benefit from this opportunity.
Repealing Taxicab Rule 415(c) would actually be a blow to economic opportunity and equality. It would seal the fate of the taxi industry while erecting virtually insurmountable roadblocks for those who’d like to make ridesharing more economically viable.
We stand with all professional drivers, including the many immigrants and minorities who desperately need that extra $300 a month. Our churches, synagogues and places of worship are filled with people who prioritize economic development and expanded opportunities.
We hope that the Los Angeles City Council will stand up for these professional drivers, many of whom are just scraping by. Justice is the moment when we make hard and even unconventional decisions to benefit those who have been left behind. We are asking policymakers to consider who would be hurt by repealing 415(c), and instead of taking resources out of our communities, stand up for justice, so that new money flows into neighborhoods where it’s most needed.
Rev. Eddie Anderson is senior pastor at McCarty Memorial Christian Church. Rabbi Joel Simonds is the founding executive director of Jewish Center for Justice.