Red Herring

Red herring: “noun, something, especially a clue, that is or is intended to be misleading or distracting.” No, Analysis is not going to consider immigration (DACA has run out), nor how hot one has to be to obtain an “Einstein visa”, or the links of chain implicated by such legitimation. Rather, Analysis would like to stay with a recent interrogation – reliable, accessible, affordable and sustainable Public Transportation in Licking County. Though the need for Public Transportation has been covered many times in the past, a recent study jumps out with its contribution to the current urgency. Late last week an MIT study was released that was covered by many news outlets. Analysis will quote from “Uber, Lyft Drivers Earning A Median Profit Of $3.37 Per Hour, Study Says” by James Doubek for NPR (3-2-18). “A working paper by Stephen M. Zoepf, Stella Chen, Paa Adu and Gonzalo Pozo at MIT’s Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research says the median pretax profit earned from driving is $3.37 per hour after taking expenses into account. Seventy-four percent of drivers earn less than their state’s minimum wage, the researchers say.”  Inevitable “push back” will be around the methodology (as it usually has been with tobacco effects studies, the demise of the honey bee studies, and climate change studies, yadda, yadda). “The conclusions are based on surveys of more than 1,100 drivers who told researchers about their revenue, how many miles they drove and what type of car they used. The study’s authors then combined that with typical costs associated with a certain car’s insurance, maintenance, gas and depreciation, which was gathered in data from Edmunds, Kelley Blue Book and the Environmental Protection Agency.” “Drivers earning the median amount of revenue are getting $0.59 per mile driven, researchers say, but expenses work out to $0.30 per mile, meaning a driver makes a median profit of $0.29 for each mile.” Analysis finds a local area university reimburses its employees at 54.5 cents per mile, the IRS rate for personal vehicle deduction. This corroborates the claim that “MIT authors also calculated that it’s possible for billions of dollars in driver profits to be untaxed because “nearly half of drivers can declare a loss on their taxes.” Drivers are able to use the IRS standard mileage rate deduction to write off some of the costs of using a car for business. In 2016, that number was $0.54 per mile. “Because of this deduction, most ride-hailing drivers are able to declare profits that are substantially lower,” researchers write. “If drivers are fully able to capitalize on these losses for tax purposes, 73.5% of an estimated U.S. market $4.8B in annual ride-hailing driver profit is untaxed,” they add.” Of course, an Uber spokesperson said of the study that “its methodology and findings are deeply flawed.” Yadda, yadda. In light of the recent meetings on Public Transportation in Licking County, the study nets a plethora of quandaries. No, not the need for more immigrants to work at jobs that don’t pay enough to sustain minimum standards of living, let alone allow one a future. “Uber and Lyft both have “notoriously high” turnover rates among drivers. A report last year said just 4 percent of Uber drivers work for the company for at least a year.” And the existing LC Transit Board says it has a hard time retaining drivers! A bulwark of the GOP solution to most problems (in Licking County, Ohio, and the nation) is to opt for the free market to “take care of” the problem through the incentive of tax credits, abatements and cuts (or no tax at all! see recently passed US tax code with its partiality to business tax cuts). Indeed, we are repeatedly told by Republican free market ideologues that “the market” is the solution to all problems, including epidemics, health care for all, as well as individual retirement (Dear Leader or John the governator makes little difference). “Both Uber and Lyft have been fighting legal battles for years against initiatives to classify their drivers as “employees” instead of “independent contractors” — meaning drivers don’t receive benefits like health care or sick leave.” Contractors (whether independent or not) are what currently the LC Transit Board, as well as others, rely on as a solution for public transportation needs. “According to MIT researchers, 80 percent of drivers said they work less than 40 hours per week. An NPR/Marist poll in January found that 1 in 5 jobs in the U.S. is held by a contract worker; contractors often juggle multiple part-time jobs.” Analysis finds that though ride sharing (contractors) may appear to be affordable and accessible, it is actually unsustainable and unreliable. Promoting a virtual platform as a solution for Public Transportation in Licking County is in fact, if not intent, misleading and distracting.

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