Calif. Cabbies Say They’re Supplying Data to Insurers on TNCs

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San Francisco cab drivers have been collecting large amounts of data on drivers participating in technology-based transportation network companies (TNCs) like Uber and Lyft and are offering that information to insurance providers, according to the director of the San Francisco Cab Drivers Association (SFCDA).

The data—which could potentially be used to evaluate the validity of claims filed by TNC drivers— consists of license numbers, vehicle makes and models, and which TNC is advertised on the vehicle, as well as traffic infractions observed by competing cab drivers.

“The fleet of cab drivers in the city is collecting this data,” said SFCDA director Trevor Johnson. “We set up a private website that is easily accessible on their smartphones. They type in the license plate number, the TNC, what time they spotted it, and whether or not [the cab driver] got a picture of the vehicle.”

Johnson told Online Auto Insurance News (OAIN) the information-gathering began as a way to alert city and state authorities of the number of TNC cars in San Francisco.

“We’re trying to collect the data because the TNC’s themselves are not providing any data to the authorities about how many vehicles are on the streets,” Johnson said. “So I’ve got an army of 300-plus cab drivers that are regularly on the road providing me with pictures and license plate numbers. We’re getting about 20 entries a day.”

But the operation has evolved to include offering the information to insurers so that they can use the data when dealing with claimants who may be part-time TNC drivers.

“This information we’re making available so the adjuster can look up the plate and see what the probability is that it’s operating as a TNC,” Johnson told OAIN. “So they can determine if there’s insurance fraud at play.”

Valuable Information to Insurers

Insurance fraud could be a potential issue with TNC drivers because of the insurance requirements put in place by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).

The CPUC regulations require TNC drivers to carry both personal and commercial coverage for their vehicles. When they’re operating for a TNC, the commercial coverage takes over. When they’re not, personal coverage is in effect.

The problem comes into play if drivers lie to their insurers by filing a claim on their personal policy for an accident that happened while they were operating as a TNC—or vice versa.

Filing through personal insurance could be attractive for drivers looking to keep their TNC employer in the dark about accidents and other claims that happen while they’re driving. However, it’s also illegal.

“If the driver does not tell his insurer he’s driving for any of these companies and he tries to file a claim, the insurer may cover it, but it would be fraud,” said Pete Moraga, spokesman for the Insurance Information Network of California (IINC). “If the insurer finds out that the claim was during a pickup under one of these companies, they can either deny, cancel the policy, or submit the claim to the CDI as fraudulent.”

Since this is such a new issue, Moraga said, insurers “may not ask drivers submitting a claim if they’re involved in a commercial venture like Lyft, Uber or Sidecar.”

That’s where the SFCDA’s data comes into play.

Johnson says he has set up a site where insurers can search the database to see how many times a license plate number has been recorded so they can get a better idea of whether drivers are using their cars to transport passengers for TNCs. He says insurers have “expressed a ton of interest in our data.”

Johnson claimed that the data has been distributed by an insurance industry trade group to member companies. A spokeswoman for the trade group would not go on the record as to whether the information had been received or distributed to the group’s members, and individual insurers did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the issue.

However, the spokeswoman did say that the information would be “helpful” to claims adjusters.

As for the cab drivers, they see the data as helping their cause by making life harder for their competition: TNC drivers.

And it seems to be working to some extent. In a recent post on KQED’s News Fix blog, several drivers told the public broadcaster that they felt intimidated by the tactics, including taking pictures of their cars.

“I have never been harassed,” an anonymous driver told KQED. “But I’ll admit, after reading some of the crap fellow drivers go through, I often take my [Lyft insignia] mustache down when I don’t have any passengers.”

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