Insurance is an important and complex issue that has been the subject of considerable attention in the transportation network company (TNC) arena. It is a significant consideration for other forms of shared mobility services as well, such as car- and bikesharing. Insurance is critical to compensating injured parties and to providing financial incentives for responsible operation of mobility services. It also is a major cost of operations for providers and a major component of prices paid by users. This chapter begins by briefly reviewing current insurance requirements for taxis. It then explores the considerable insurance challenges facing new technology-enabled mobility services, whose vehicles can shift quickly between private and commercial operation. To this end, the chapter describes both the existing insurance requirements for current and emerging for-hire mobility services and the new “hybrid” policies that are beginning to enter the market. Finally, while much has been made in the media about insurance concerns facing TNCs, other forms of shared mobility, such as car- and bikesharing and microtransit, also face challenging insurance issues; thus, the chapter describes how those services are currently managing financial risk and insurance policies.
Insurance requirements for taxis are set by local jurisdictions, which nearly always require commercial policies. The coverage limits for these required policies vary greatly, ranging from $35,000 in combined single limits (CSL) (the dollar limit, covering all injured people
and all damaged property, that an insurance company will pay per incident) to $2 million in CSL. As of 2013, the median limit required by state taxi regulators was $300,000 in CSL, and the median limits required by local regulators ranged from $300,000 to $1 million in CSL. The committee is aware of no data-based justification for this variation in insurance requirements. The average annual per car insurance premium paid by taxi operators in 2013 was $5,632 for fleets with fewer than 25 vehicles, $6,475 for fleets with 25 to 99 vehicles, and $8,192 for fleets with 100 or more vehicles (TLPA 2013).1
As of 2015, few traditional insurance companies offered insurance to TNCs because their risk profile was largely unknown. TNCs instead work with specialty insurers who are able to assume their higher or unknown risk in exchange for higher premiums.2 Traditional insurance carriers receive a license from the state’s department of insurance for the authority to write specific lines of insurance. Specialty insurers are not required to have a license with a given state and cannot write policies that are typically available from traditional insurance carriers.
There are at least two types of insurance relevant to TNCs. The first is personal insurance specific to each vehicle with a standard insurance carrier; this is the traditional car insurance that any private vehicle owner must carry under state law. The second type is commercial insurance with a specialty insurance carrier that issues a policy to the TNC, not the individual vehicle owner. This latter insurance applies to commercial activities including driving for
1 These figures exclude companies that were self-insured.
2 Often called the “safety valve” of the insurance industry, “surplus lines” insurers fill the need for coverage in the marketplace by assuming those risks that are declined in accordance with the standard underwriting and pricing processes of “admitted” insurance carriers. With the ability to accommodate a wide variety of risks, the surplus lines market acts as an effective supplement to the admitted market. Risks typically covered in the surplus lines market fall into three basic categories: (1) nonstandard risks, which have unusual underwriting characteristics; (2) unique risks for which admitted carriers do not offer a filed policy form or rate; and (3) capacity risks, where an insured party seeks a higher level of coverage than most insurers are willing to provide (NAPSLO 2015).
hire, as opposed to personal activities such as driving alone or with a relative or coworker.
Initially, the TNCs professed the view that the driver’s existing automobile insurance would suffice for rides offered through the TNC. Existing insurance included personal insurance for a Lyft or UberX driver and commercial insurance for UberBlack drivers, who were already in the for-hire business. The TNCs strongly opposed insurance requirements that went beyond the individual driver’s existing policy; they claimed that since they were simply connecting drivers with customers and were not themselves in the transportation business, they did not need insurance related to the vehicle trips. Private passenger automobile insurers expressed concern about the notion that carrying passengers via one of the TNCs was not a commercial activity and threatened to refuse a policy to individuals driving for the companies. Taxi companies likewise expressed concern that they were being undercut by TNCs because the insurance requirements and costs imposed on traditional taxis were considerably greater than those imposed on TNC drivers. Thus, the shift to commercial insurance for TNCs began.
Commercial insurance is nearly always priced higher than personal insurance for two basic reasons. First, commercial vehicles are driven more miles than personal vehicles—often 50,000 or more miles a year as compared with 7,000 to 12,000 miles for typical personal vehicles. More miles (exposure) equates to greater risk of crashes and therefore higher costs for insurance. Second, the risk of crashes per mile driven is often (though not always) higher for commercial vehicles. Two reasons for higher crash rates for commercial vehicles are posited. First, time is money, and drivers have an incentive to move quickly to deliver goods (for trucks) and passengers (for cabs) so as to move on to the next paying job. Second, research in many fields has found that people tend to treat their own property with more care than property (in this case vehicles) owned by others, such as a taxi fleet company or a permit or medallion holder. Some studies have shown, however, that cab drivers have lower crash rates when the rates are adjusted for miles driven, so the higher crash risk per mile driven is not universal (Schaller Consulting 2006).
In addition to the question of whether a TNC driver’s private vehicle insurance will cover incidents that occur while he or she is carrying paying passengers is the question of when and under what circumstances commercial TNC insurance coverage or the driver’s personal vehicle insurance is the primary policy. Without clarity on this question, increased transaction costs and litigation are likely to occur in response to crashes and claims involving vehicles used for TNC services.
A second key consideration is ensuring that all of the risk caused by for-hire operations—the added TNC-related mileage when the driver would not otherwise be on the road—is borne by the commercial TNC and not the driver’s private insurer, unless the private passenger automobile insurer specifically provides for coverage. As discussed in Chapter 5, most TNC drivers work part-time, some providing just a few paid rides in a month. It is difficult to argue that these part-time drivers should be required to buy commercial policies that are rated and priced on the assumption of full-time, high-mileage operations.
Thus, the keys to resolving the questions around TNC insurance have proven to be clear rules for determining
- Which insurer is the primary carrier and
- Which insurance company has the sole duty to defend.3
Requiring primary commercial coverage and sole duty to defend designation reduces the costs and time delays associated with determining which insurer is responsible for defending the policyholder and primarily responsible for coverage. To the extent that the risks of the ride service operations are greater than the risk of private vehicle use, the insurance costs to the TNC or TNC driver might increase. Despite these increased costs, the injured party would still
3 The duty to defend is defined as “an insurer’s obligation to provide an insured with defense to claims made under a liability insurance policy. As a general rule, an insured need only establish that there is potential for coverage under a policy to give rise to the insurer’s duty to defend. Therefore, the duty to defend may exist even where coverage is in doubt and ultimately does not apply” (International Risk Management Institute 2015).
be compensated for bodily injury, property damage, and limited loss of earnings (Uber.com 2015). If the risks associated with issuing the policy were properly calculated and the policy were therefore priced appropriately, settlement costs would be confined to the for-hire pool of vehicles and not paid by private passenger automobile insurers.
California was the first jurisdiction to define periods of TNC service and require varying insurance levels for each. Period 1 is the time during which the driver has the app open and is waiting for a match. In period 2, the driver has accepted a match and is on his or her way to pick up the passenger. Period 3 consists of the time when the passenger is in the vehicle. In period 1, California requires that TNCs provide primary insurance with minimum coverage of $50,000 for bodily injury per person, $100,000 for total bodily injury per accident, and $30,000 for property damage; California also requires the TNCs to provide excess coverage of $200,000 during period 1 to cover any additional costs. In periods 2 and 3, TNCs must provide primary commercial insurance of $1,000,000, with an additional $1,000,000 in uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage during period 3 (California Public Utilities Commission 2015). Many jurisdictions, such as Colorado and Portland (Oregon), followed the lead of California in enacting similar regulations (PFHT Task Force 2015; Salazar 2015). As of July 2015, 27 states and the District of Columbia had enacted legislation that set specific insurance coverage requirements for TNCs, and 5 state legislatures were actively considering such bills (PCI 2015). Many of these bills are based on the California insurance requirements, which reflect compromises reached between the insurance industry and TNCs. Such bills have failed to advance in 14 states—notably New York and Oregon—where regulators have pushed back on TNCs on a variety of fronts; 4 states have no active legislation.
These policies, broadly speaking, require one level of insurance while the ride service app is activated in the vehicle and a higher level of insurance once a passenger is present. The rationale is to scale the insurance coverage limit requirement to the level of for-hire activity risk. This approach addresses the incremental risk of for-hire operation that exists once a call has been assigned to a vehicle. It does not,
however, address the risk of the vehicle mileage prior to assignment of a call or after passenger drop-off. This risk can be considerable, as when TNC drivers deadhead into downtown areas or airports for the purpose of finding passengers. This approach also risks misclassification of crashes that might reasonably be covered by the TNC policy, as when injured parties may not know that the vehicle was being operated for hire. In that case, the cost of claims paid goes into the experience pool for personal insurance instead of being covered by the commercial policy, as should be the case.
While many jurisdictions have promulgated this sort of a tiered approach to private individual and commercial TNC insurance, another approach is simply to require the same commercial insurance of TNC vehicles as of taxis and other licensed for-hire vehicles (limousine, sedan, or black car services)—the approach taken by Houston, New York City, and others. These policies can have higher costs than coverage for personal vehicles, reflecting the higher risks and mileage involved. While the TNCs opposed these regulations when initially proposed, they have largely complied and were operating in these cities as of 2015. The advantage of this approach lies in the simplicity of having one policy cover all vehicle operations and in the equity across segments of the ride-for-hire industry. It is expected that insurance premiums will be adjusted based on actual losses as insurers gain experience with this class of business.
The disadvantage to wider application of such regulatory simplicity is that it would likely come at a high cost. Classifying and insuring private vehicles that may carry only a few paying passengers each month as full-time commercial vehicles might considerably increase the cost of TNC services or reduce driver incomes, particularly among occasional drivers, for uncertain public interest gain. Moreover, because the GPS-enabled TNC app records all vehicle movements in time and space from call to pickup and from pickup to drop-off, including the routes taken, the opportunity to fine-tune coverage such that marginal risk reflects marginal price—as many private insurers are doing with in-vehicle travel-monitoring devices for personal insurance policies—would be lost with a blanket commercial coverage requirement. In fact, as data on the movements of taxis improve, the opportunity for taxi services to shift from expensive full-time
commercial coverage also improves. The full-time commercial coverage creates an adverse selection problem, motivating taxi owners to drive their vehicles in commercial service as much as possible. Shifting away from this could potentially reduce commercial insurance costs for taxi companies and would be another approach to leveling the playing field with TNCs.
Some insurance companies are beginning to create policy endorsements that will fill the current gaps between personal automobile policies and commercial coverage for TNC drivers. As of 2015, these policies were being offered by a limited number of insurers, which established coverage using differing methods. Metromile, Farmers Insurance, MetLife, GEICO, the United Services Automobile Association (USAA), Liberty Mutual, Travelers Insurance, Progressive, and Erie Insurance all began offering some sort of insurance policy that either removes the “livery exemption”4 from existing policies or transforms the TNC driver’s personal policy into an excess policy for the period of TNC activity (NAIC 2015). As of 2015, all of these hybrid policies were limited in scope and offered in only a few states. For example, Erie Insurance’s policy was available only in Illinois and Indiana; Geico’s in Georgia, Maryland, Virginia, and Texas; and USAA’s in Colorado and Texas (NAIC 2015; The RideShare Guy 2015). If these hybrid policies become better established and widespread, insurance companies will have continually better actuarial-based data for analyses of crashes and exposure risks associated with TNC service.
Carsharing presents its own set of insurance challenges, many of which emerged after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. At that time, North American carsharing operators were faced with substantially higher
4 A livery exemption excludes the transporting of people or goods for hire, such as by a taxi service, motor carrier, or delivery service, from being covered under an automobile insurance policy.
premiums relative to those of individual private vehicle owners, premiums that often exceeded $2,500 per vehicle annually (Shaheen et al. 2006). Although insurance has become increasingly available and more affordable for carsharing operators, the situation remains far from settled. For instance, Buffalo CarShare, a nonprofit provider, ceased operation in June 2015 because of loss of insurance coverage. The insurance carrier, Philadelphia Insurance, decided to withdraw coverage in part because of New York State’s personal injury protection laws, which require insurance carriers to pay for medical bills due to a crash regardless of fault. These laws have greatly limited the number of companies offering carsharing insurance, and the provider could not find another insurance carrier willing to offer coverage (Johnson 2015). In other states, similar nonprofit carsharing programs are covered through the Alliance of Nonprofit Insurers (ANI), which at present does not operate in New York and cannot provide service there. ANI currently provides automobile coverage in 34 states (Drury 2015).
In 2005, Congress passed the Graves Amendment as part of the surface transportation funding reauthorization bill; this amendment protected rental car companies from vicarious liability.5 In 2009, a driver rear-ended by a Zipcar vehicle sued both the driver and Zipcar, claiming that Zipcar should be held responsible for deaths, injuries, and property damage resulting from negligence in the use and operation of its vehicles. In 2010, the New York Supreme Court ruled that Zipcar was entitled to protections against vicarious liability afforded by the Graves Amendment.
Zipcar provides third-party automobile liability coverage to its members as either personal injury protection (PIP) or no-fault coverage, depending on the requirements of the jurisdiction in which the accident occurs. Members are generally responsible for a $1,000 damage fee per incident, and Zipcar provides liability coverage of
5 Vicarious liability is defined as liability that a supervisory party (such as an employer or, in this case, the rental car company) bears for the actionable conduct of a subordinate or associate (such as an employee or, in this case, renter) based on the relationship between the two parties. Under common law, a member of a conspiracy can be held vicariously liable for the crimes of his or her coconspirators if the crimes committed by the coconspirators were foreseeable and if they were committed with the intent of furthering the objectives of the conspiracy.
$100,000 bodily injury per person, $300,000 bodily injury maximum, and $25,000 property damage (Zipcar 2015).6 In general, many carsharing programs are moving toward providing blanket $1 million liability policies, making Zipcar an outlier in terms of coverage limits.
Insurance coverage for car2go (a one-way carsharing provider) varies by state, but it generally provides $100,000 bodily injury liability per person, $300,000 bodily injury liability per incident, and $50,000 property damage liability, plus uninsured motorist coverage of at least $10,000 and often more, as well as collision and comprehensive coverage with a $1,000 deductible (car2go 2015). In these two large carsharing programs, drivers using carsharing services are covered, but the coverage varies by company.
Peer-to-peer carsharing (e.g., RelayRides, Getaround, FlightCar) also raises insurance questions. As with TNCs, most state insurance laws have not kept pace with the growing array of peer-to-peer models. And as with TNCs, the fundamental insurance issue with peer-to-peer carsharing is defining when the vehicle owner’s policy ends and when the peer-to-peer carsharing operator’s commercial policy begins. Legislation covering peer-to-peer vehicle insurance was ratified in California, Oregon, and Washington as part of AB 1871, HB 3149, and HB 2384, respectively (Shaheen et al. 2012a). The first U.S. peer-to-peer insurance legislation, California’s AB 1871, in particular has served as a model for such legislation in other states. These three laws classify peer-to-peer carsharing as noncommercial use and limit “the circumstances under which the vehicle owner’s automobile liability insurance can be subject to liability” to prevent cancellation of primary automobile insurance policies (AB 1871 2010). The peer-to-peer carsharing operator assumes liability when the vehicle is rented in a shared capacity, and the owner’s insurance policy resumes coverage once the vehicle has been returned. Because the vehicles are being
6 Listed insurance limits are for members aged 21 and over. Members under 21 receive coverage only up to the minimum financial responsibility limits required in the jurisdiction in which the accident occurs. However, members who joined Zipcar with a university may see different financial responsibility limits, depending on the school’s agreement with the company. Listed insurance limits are also for members who joined Zipcar on or after March 1, 2015. Members who joined prior to this date receive liability coverage of $300,000 in CSL per incident.
used for commercial purposes, the driver’s personal automobile policy typically becomes void because of exclusions for rentals and commercial activity. Vehicle owners who share their automobiles in states lacking peer-to-peer carsharing legislation risk nonrenewal of primary insurance policies or premium spikes resulting from increased use (Shaheen et al. 2012a).
As of 2015, RelayRides, for example, covered vehicle owners with a $1 million liability insurance policy and provided three insurance options for renters: (1) a premium package with a deductible of $500; (2) a basic package with a deductible of $2,500; and (3) an option to decline coverage, meaning that the renter is personally accountable for all costs related to vehicle damage or liability (RelayRides 2015). In February 2012, the driver of a vehicle rented from RelayRides caused a crash in Boston, which injured four others and killed the driver. The four survivors sued the estate of the driver, the car’s owner, and RelayRides. All four cases were settled out of court for an undisclosed amount (McQueen 2013).
Bikesharing programs do not have statutory protections against vicarious liability. Unlike car renters, bikeshare users lack the ability to purchase insurance at the time of a mobility transaction. Thus, the user and possibly the bikesharing operator are responsible for the conduct and damages associated with their program’s equipment. Increasingly, bikesharing programs are purchasing a variety of insurance types to protect them from a wide range of liability (Shaheen et al. 2012b). Although most bikesharing operators maintain insurance to protect against litigation, most policies do not protect riders against medical bills and lost wages associated with bicycle collisions (Glover 2013).
Owners and operators of bikesharing programs can also be sued if one of their bicycles is involved in a serious collision resulting in injuries, fatalities, or property damage. Bikesharing owners and operators can manage risk and limit their liability by having users sign waivers or indemnification clauses, keeping equipment well maintained, and educating users about bicycle and roadway safety.
As of 2012, all North American bikeshare operators required users to sign liability waivers prior to using their services (Shaheen et al. 2012b); these waivers severely limit the coverage available to a user in case of an incident. Some homeowners’ insurance policies will also provide coverage to their policyholders.
While these waivers certainly make financial sense for the bikesharing programs, they may not be in the public interest. For example, New York’s Citi Bike does not provide insurance coverage for its users, who are responsible for all injuries and damages incurred while using the bikes. Motivate, the company that operates the service, has a $10 million insurance policy, but the user contract limits customers to $100 in claims against the operator (Citi Bike 2015). Liability insurance for the bikesharing operator can start at $5,000 annually for a $1 million policy, with minimum liability coverage varying depending on the requirements of the property owners where the bikesharing stations are located.
Finally, microtransit services generally are required to be covered by commercial automobile insurance. Bridj’s application to provide service within the City of Boston was not approved until the service provided proof of its insurance coverage (Byju 2014). The California Public Utility Commission required Leap Transit to suspend its California operations in May 2015 in part because it had not provided proof of insurance to the state (Rauber 2015); the company later filed for bankruptcy. Chariot, another service operating in San Francisco, simply states that “all Chariot riders are fully insured above the state’s minimum” (Chariot Transit Inc. 2015).
Insurance coverage for the growing array of technology-enabled mobility services is still evolving, complicated by the fluid and contingent nature of shared mobility. When is a vehicle private, and when is it commercial? How is risk assessed and insurance secured for vehicles shared among many, even thousands of drivers and riders? These and related questions are only now being addressed in the face of continued rapid growth in the sharing economy generally and these new transportation services in particular. A major challenge to
insuring these services is that the insurance industry evolves more slowly relative to technology startup companies. Insurance underwriting is based on risk, which underwriters estimate based on experience that, in the realm of these new services, is often in short supply. As these new shared mobility services established track records, providers’ access to a robust set of insurance options is likely to broaden. To date, moreover, 27 states have adopted laws that are based largely on the precedent-setting insurance requirements adopted earlier in California that close the gap between coverage applying to taxi drivers and to TNC drivers while engaged in a commercial activity.
A major public policy issue at present concerns the costs of insurance for taxi operators and TNCs. Data were available to the committee on taxi industry insurance costs per vehicle per year, but the only available information about TNC insurance is on the coverage provided and not the cost. Part of the issue is that most TNC drivers work part-time, and much of the insurance coverage provided applies when the driver has a passenger; hence the insurance is a marginal rather than an average cost. In comparison, taxi operators are paying an average cost since their vehicles tend to be operated on a full-time basis. To the extent that TNCs have lower insurance costs, they have a cost advantage over traditional taxi and sedan operators. One solution would be to require traditional full-time commercial vehicle coverage of TNCs, as is currently common with taxis; another would be to shift taxis to similar variable insurance rates that take into account level, location, and time of travel.
|NAIC||National Association of Insurance Commissioners|
|NAPSLO||National Association of Professional Surplus Lines Offices|
|PCI||Property Casualty Insurers Association of America|
|PFHT||Private For-Hire Transportation|
|TLPA||Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association|
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Rauber, C. 2015. Leap Transit Suspends Bus Service After Regulators Flag It Down. San Francisco Business Times, May 20. http://www.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/blog/2015/05/leap-transit-private-buses-san-francisco-insurance.html.
RelayRides. 2015. I’d Like a Detailed Explanation of Insurance and Protection Provisions. https://support.relayrides.com/hc/en-us/articles/203990610-I-d-like-a-detailed-explanation-of-insurance-and-protection-provisions.
Salazar, M. 2015. Letter to Committees on Senate Bill 14-125. Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies, Division of Insurance, Jan. 6. http://cdn.colorado.gov/cs/Satellite?blobcol=urldata&blobheadername1=Content-Disposition&blobheadername2=Content-Type&blobheadervalue1=inline%3B+filename%3D%22Transportation+Network+Companies+(TNC)+Coverage+Report+for+Colorado+Legislature.pdf%22&blobheadervalue2=application%2Fpdf&blobkey=id&blobtable=MungoBlobs&blobwhere=1252051554150&ssbinary=true.
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