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Goldstein Investigates: Taxi Drivers Question Uber's Deal With City Providing Rides To COVID-19 Vaccine Sites

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Uber's $500,000 donation of rides to the Mayor's Fund for Los Angeles has come under fire from the city's taxi drivers who claim the rideshare giant is trying to influence city politics.

"I think it's dirty politics, but then politics has never been a clean business," Leon Slomovic, president of the Taxi Workers Association of Los Angeles, said.

Two weeks ago, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced Uber would be donating rides to help those without cars get to COVID-19 vaccination sites, like the one at the University of Southern California.

"It's the largest commitment of its kind anywhere in the United States," Garcetti said at the time.

The donation came as the city and taxi drivers — who have been hard hit by the rise of rideshare services — were working on a new fare structure that would hopefully allow them to better compete, and taxi workers are not happy.

The Taxi Workers Association said it believes Uber may be trying to curry favor with the city. And while the taxi drivers cannot match the donation to get people to vaccination sites, they said the city could have found a way to hire taxis to help the industry.

"The city would have used federal funds to help," Slomovic said. "This could have been a shot in the arm, especially now that most drivers are getting vaccinated."

According to the Mayor's Fund, Uber approached the city with an offer of assistance and the fund said it was "pleased to facilitate" the donation.

Last year, the nonprofit fund took in $66 million — some from corporations that do business with the city of stand to gain from donating.

"The criticism of the Mayor's Fund for a long time has been this is just a way to obtain access and influence over the mayor," Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School, said.

And while she said that may be the case, it was the city that ultimately won in this case.

"Uber actually came in and fulfilled a very real need," she said.

A spokesperson for Garcetti's office said that while the city accepted Uber's offer, nothing they've done precludes the city from working with others in the future.

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