OPINION: Bob Blumenfield falls short of supporting working class

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Vladimir Betsis
For the Hub

I would have thought that one of the most vocal proponents of raising the minimum wage in Los Angeles would keenly understand the challenges faced by working people. Unfortunately, Los Angeles City Councilman Bob Blumenfield has fallen short in his long history of support for the working class by aggressively pushing a law that would ban me from taking advantage of my one asset that can help me stay afloat.

I drive a taxi in the Los Angeles Area. Since the advent of the TNCs – Uber and Lyft – there are days where I work a full shift and don’t earn a single dollar. Yet I still need to buy gas, pay my bills and feed my family. The city, including Mr. Blumenfield, put me at a severe disadvantage the day it legalized TNCs. But not only did the TNCs create more competition, they eroded my ability to earn what many would consider a living wage.

At a recent public hearing, Councilman Blumenfield said that he is “sympathetic to trying to give [taxi drivers] an extra buck” and that “there’s lots of ways we can do that.” Not only is such a statement demeaning, it’s empty. Can Mr. Blumenfield name but one way he would accomplish the pittance of “an extra buck” for taxi drivers?

Given the limited entrepreneurial opportunities available to me, I am excited about an opportunity offered by Firefly, a company that would place a digital sign atop my car and pay me $300 monthly, which would be significant for me and my family. Firefly does not require extra hours behind the wheel, so I wouldn’t have to drive more. This opportunity would provide my passengers with free in-car Wi-Fi that I don’t have to supply, just one of many innovations that will help me compete.

Yet Mr. Blumenfield, a self-styled champion of innovation, says that Firefly, a company offering taxi drivers the opportunity to increase income, is “luring taxi drivers to commit a crime.” He went on to threaten me and my colleagues with “time in prison” for something that is clearly allowed by law, because if it weren’t, he wouldn’t be trying to change the law.

As an immigrant in an industry full of immigrants, I’m shocked that Mr. Blumenfield would employ such scare tactics against those who are in desperate need of his help, his creativity and his compassion, not his threats. Fear mongering has no place in a progressive society. Mr. Blumenfield’s comments prove just how little he understands – or cares – about the working poor who crave opportunity and need his support.

Los Angeles found a way to legalize both TNCs and scooters despite myriad legal issues, but they won’t allow Firefly, which breaks no laws, to partner with taxi drivers. At Mr. Blumenfield’s urging, the city might ban Firefly. There’s something incredibly wrong with this picture.

I can’t help but feel targeted by Councilmember Blumenfield’s harsh remarks and lack of empathy, especially when he’s shown no interest in improving the lives of taxi drivers. With all the pressing problems facing Angelenos today, it’s hard to imagine any problems will be fixed by targeting local taxi drivers for trying to make a living.

Vladimir Betis is a taxi driver in the Los Angeles area.

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