The Big Showdown Over Fingerprinting Uber and Lyft Drivers

NewsUSA  |  2016-05-24

(NewsUSA) - Even some Sunday school teachers are subject to it. So why are Uber and Lyft so averse to having their drivers fingerprinted that they just suspended service in a major U.S. city?

Fingerprints are widely considered the best way to weed out criminals, but checking them costs more than the simple name-based background reviews the app-based ride-hailing companies have fought hard to continue using across the country.

So a few months after the City Council in Austin, Texas, voted last December to require them anyway for public safety reasons, Uber and Lyft spent $8.6 million on a campaign blitz -- described as full of “dicey misdirections” in the city’s largest newspaper -- to get voters to overturn the regulations.

It wasn’t even close.

By a margin of 56 percent to 44 percent, voters said: Hell, yes, we want your drivers fingerprinted, just like cabbies and limousine drivers are.

And why wouldn’t they? Consider the following:

  • Ride-hailing drivers have been accused of a string of rapes, murders and other crimes across the nation.

  • Uber agreed in April to pay as much as $25 million to settle a lawsuit in California that accused it of misleading customers about the strength of its background checks on drivers. “Laws designed to protect consumers cannot be ignored,” San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon declared.

What makes the Austin vote all the more amazing is that people went to the polls knowing that Uber and Lyft had threatened to pull out if the rules weren’t loosened.

“The threat brings to mind what was, for my generation, a famous (humor) magazine image,” an Austin American-Statesman reporter wrote, referring to a 1973 National Lampoon cover of a man pointing a gun at a cute little dog’s head. “‘If You Don’t Buy This Magazine, We’ll Kill This Dog,’” the headline said.

“Lyft and Uber told Austin, essentially, pass our (favored) regulations or we’ll kill your dog.”

The “dog,” in Austin’s case, the reporter went on to clarify, being their customers and as many as 15,000 (at least temporarily out-of-work) drivers.

Public safety advocates are hoping the Austin vote marks a turning point in the ongoing effort to get the Ubers of the world to play by the same rules as everyone else.

“Until all municipalities require suitable background checks for drivers of these ride-hailing services, we fear continued disastrous consequences as a result of digital hitchhiking,” said Scott Solombrino, co-founder of the National Limousine Association (www.Limo.org).

Meanwhile, Austin Mayor Steve Adler has offered to return to the bargaining table to negotiate a compromise, and both Uber and Lyft are urging Austinites to contact their City Council members if they want the services to resume.

And, oh, yes, at least one small, start-up ride-hailing company named GetMe -- apparently sensing an exploitable opening -- has said it has no problem complying with the fingerprinting requirement.

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Spring into Summer in the Lone Star State

Brandpoint  |  2016-04-26

(BPT) - When it comes to spring and summer vacations, Texas is full of possibilities, boasting more than 600 miles of coastline, scenic mountain ranges, historic sites and more. With activities like dolphin watching, deep sea fishing, bird watching and hiking, visitors will never be bored.

For a Gulf Coast adventure, Corpus Christi is a must-see and one of the world’s top kiteboarding destinations. Just down the road from Corpus Christi is Port Aransas, a coastal town where chartered boats with local guides and equipment are available for deep sea fishing experiences that will have you reeling in red snapper, wahoo, blue marlin and more in a matter of hours. Galveston, a unique 32-mile beach town, offers everything from soft sandy beaches to one of the largest, most historically significant collections of 19th-century buildings. Additionally, Galveston is one of the top locations for birding in the United States as the island is home to more than 500 species of birds.

If you prefer mountains to waves, West Texas is the place for you. You’ll be amazed by the beauty of the Big Bend National Park in Big Bend, the Davis Mountains State Park in Fort Davis and the Franklin Mountains State Park in El Paso. In addition to hiking through scenic mountain ranges, West Texas is home to many outdoor activities. Take a dip in the world’s largest spring-fed swimming pool, Balmorhea, horseback ride, white water raft on the Rio Grande River, kayak, canoe, stargaze at the McDonald Observatory and more.

Another popular state park, Palo Duro Canyon, cuts through the heart of the Texas Panhandle just south of Amarillo and is nicknamed the Grand Canyon of Texas. At roughly 60 miles long, up to 20 miles wide and around 266 yards deep, it is the second largest canyon in the country. Further South in the Texas Hill Country, Enchanted Rock is an ancient pink granite dome that has attracted visitors for thousands of years. A variety of outdoor activities are sure to keep visitors busy, including hiking, camping, rock climbing, birding, geocaching and stargazing. In fact, Enchanted Rock is one of two Texas state parks designated as an International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association.

Want to make a splash? Take a swim in one of Austin’s swimming holes. Barton Springs Pool is one of Austin’s famous landmarks and easily the most popular swimming hole in the city. Spring fed, Barton Springs Pool is over three acres and remains 70 degrees year round. Another famous swimming hole, Hamilton Pool, was created thousands of years ago when an underground river collapsed creating the sunken grotto. With a 50-foot waterfall spilling from an outcropping of limestone into the jade green pool, it is a site to behold.

South of Austin in New Braunfels, Schlitterbahn Waterpark Resort has been named the best water park in the nation for 17 years. With tube chutes, water coasters, a sea creature cove, lazy rivers and more, visitors of all ages will have a blast at an affordable price.

Not near New Braunfels? Don’t worry! There’s plenty of fun to be had in Arlington at one of the biggest theme parks in the state, Six Flags Over Texas. Its claim to fame is The Texas Giant, while the kids will enjoy Bugs Bunny Boomtown. Across the street, more than 3 million gallons of water await at Six Flags Hurricane Harbor. In San Antonio, Six Flags Fiesta Texas offers a variety of musical performances and shows in addition to rides. The park is home to Batman: The Ride, a new world class 4D Free Fly Coaster that thrusts riders into an immersive, high-speed Gotham City adventure.

Perhaps the most important theme park of all in the state of Texas is Morgan’s Wonderland. Located in San Antonio with inclusion as its guiding principle, Morgan’s Wonderland was designed with special-needs individuals in mind and built for everyone’s enjoyment. The 25-acre, completely wheelchair-accessible park features more than 25 attractions.

Not to mention, San Antonio is home to the UNESCO World Heritage Site San Antonio Missions. The state’s most iconic mission is the Alamo, however, Spanish priests established five additional Catholic missions: San Antonio de Valero, San José, Concepción, San Juan and Espada, along the San Antonio River. The traditions established by the mission’s friars still influence the culture of San Antonio today.

With great weather and plenty to do, you can't go wrong when spending your spring and summer in Texas. For more information about travel experiences in the Lone Star State, visit www.TravelTexas.com and find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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The Gal's Guide to an Unforgettable Girlfriends' Getaway

Brandpoint  |  2016-04-21

(BPT) - Looking to satisfy your wanderlust? There are no better travel partners than your girlfriends. From Mayo Clinic to Harvard University, research shows friendships improve health, happiness and longevity, so it is time to seize the day, or in this case, the weekend. Whether you want to reconnect or simply experience something new, planning a girlfriends’ getaway will not only make you happier and healthier, but is a snap if you keep a few expert tips in mind.

Bren Herrera is no stranger to travel, and girlfriend getaways are her forte. As a private chef, Herrera’s passion for food is only trumped by her desire to spend each weekend exploring the culture and cuisine from coast to coast. Her top tips to guide girlfriends to the best travel experiences include:

  1. Wander for the weekend
    Careers, family and other responsibilities make life busy. With so little time, a weekend getaway is an easier commitment than a weeklong adventure. In fact, more people are taking advantage of the weekends to pursue experiences tied to their passions, with travel topping the list, according to a recent Hampton by Hilton survey. These individuals are known as “Seekenders.” No matter where you live, there is some place incredible to explore just a couple of hours away.

  2. Create a “non-agenda” agenda
    With a packed schedule, your typical day goes from one item on the to-do list to the next. Agree with your girlfriends to adopt the idea of having a “non-agenda” agenda for your getaway. That means you can relax, go with the flow and enjoy the simplicity of random exploration. You can explore a few must-see spots, but avoid over planning the trip. Spontaneous adventures make for the best memories. Don’t forget free-spirited photo sessions to forever capture those magical moments!

  3. Select the ideal hotel
    Choose a hotel that offers friendly service and a variety of locations so the ladies have a place to primp and pamper. For example, with more than 2,100 properties globally, Hampton by Hilton is the ideal option for girlfriend getaways. Weekend wanderers nosh on Hampton’s free breakfast, check in with complimentary Wi-Fi and can squeeze in a quick workout in the fitness center or take a break while sipping a freshly brewed hazelnut coffee, all at no extra cost. Visit HamptonbyHilton.com and find your dream destination and learn about the 100 percent Hampton Guarantee.

  4. Forget the diet, savor the local cuisine
    There’s no room for a diet on a girlfriends’ getaway. Forget rules and enjoy the authentic cuisine your destination has to offer. That could mean visiting a small, independent cafe for lunch and splurging on that 5-star restaurant you have been reading about for dinner and drinks.

  5. Hit the city hotspots
    You won’t be able to explore every inch of a city in one weekend, so brainstorm with the gals and hit your must-see hotspots. You’ll be surprised how much you can get done in a half day. In just four hours, Herrera and her best friend explored San Francisco, finding time to drive through the Golden Gate Bridge State Park to Lombard Street and Union Square, eat brunch at Bulga, ride a streetcar and, of course, snap a hilltop photo of Alcatraz.

As part of Hampton by Hilton's Ultimate Seekender Team, Bren will continue to embark on weekend adventures. With these tips, you, too, can travel in style and on budget with your gal pals. For some inspiration, trip ideas and to learn how to embrace your inner Seekender, visit HamptonSeekender.com.

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Super Fans from LA Meet Star of Harry Potter Movies in London

NewsUSA  |  2016-04-07

James Phelps with Adam, Daniel and Victoria Johnson at Warner Bros. Studios.

(NewsUSA) - Sponsored News - A Los Angeles family visiting the British capital was left amazed when they came face-to-face with actor James Phelps (aka Fred Weasley), who then took them on a one-off VIP tour of Warner Bros. Studio Tour London -- The Making of Harry Potter.

Phelps, who played one-half of the Weasley brothers in the blockbuster movies, met the Johnson family as they visited the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London -- The Making of Harry Potter. The actor then took them on a very special tour of the studio.

The family, consisting of mum Sam, Victoria (14), Daniel (13) and Adam (11) knew the trip involved a Harry Potter theme, but had no idea they would be embarking on a once-in-a-lifetime tour with one of the stars of the movie series.

The Johnson family, which runs a successful LA-based charity that helps local children overcome bullying, were picked by the city's official tourism body, VisitLondon.com, for a special trip as part of the Fans of London tourism drive for the capital.

Speaking about his day with the Johnsons, Phelps said: "I had such a great time with Adam, Victoria and Daniel, showing them around the film sets, telling them stories about when we shot the films and even teaching them a few magic tricks...London is one of my favourite places in the world and fans of Harry Potter can still enjoy so much of its magic across the city."

"My mum used to read the books to me and my brother and sister even before we were born," said Harry Potter 'super fan', Adam Johnson. "When I think of Harry Potter I always think of London. Our trip was so much fun, especially meeting James Phelps, and I really wish I had a real-life Firebolt broomstick so that I could fly back to London whenever I want!"

Fans of London celebrating the blockbuster events across London this year, such as The Queen's 90th birthday celebrations, 400 years of Shakespeare's legacy and the world's first exhibition on the Rolling Stones, EXHIBITIONISM. For the chance to win a trip to London, go to www.visitlondon.com/fans.

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Experience Florida, Off the Beaten Path

NewsUSA  |  2016-04-07

(NewsUSA) - Sponsored News - For many people, the words “Florida vacation” conjure up images of theme parks and beaches. But head inland and away from the major cities, and you’ll quickly realize that there’s so much more to the Sunshine State. Cattle ranches, historic architecture, some of the nation’s oldest wineries and more dot the landscape as you explore the state’s interior. Streamsong Resort, located about 45 minutes southeast of Tampa, is one getaway catering to an increasing number of tourists who want to experience this other side of Florida, off the beaten path.

Once covered in prehistoric seas, Streamsong’s land had a long life as the site of a phosphate mine before reclamation efforts transformed the secluded parcel into a golf resort with two of the nation’s top courses. Decades of mining contributed to the land’s unique characteristics, producing millions of cubic yards of sand that, over time, morphed into dramatic dunes. Here you see osprey, not seagulls, nesting in high perches; the largest body of water on the property is better suited for bass fishing instead of body surfing; and there’s one palm tree on the entire 16,000 acres.

“So many guests tell us that, if they didn’t know better, they would never guess they were in Florida,” says Streamsong’s general manager, Rich Mogensen. “Streamsong is truly like nothing else in the state.”

At its core, Streamsong is a golf resort -- home to the nationally acclaimed Streamsong Red and Streamsong Blue, but increasingly guests visit for other reasons. They want to test their skill on the sporting clays and archery range, set deep in the heart of the secluded property. They want to take guided fishing excursions on the resort’s lakes, where largemouth bass average six pounds and often top eight. And they want to experience each of the six unique pools in the resort’s grotto-style AcquaPietra spa.

“Guests choose Streamsong because they don’t want the standard vacation,” Mogensen says. “We deliver by giving them a memorable experience -- one you can’t find anywhere else.”

For more information about Streamsong, visit www.streamsongresort.com or call 1-855-998-6549.

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Make the Most of Your Greater Fort Lauderdale Vacation

NewsUSA  |  2016-04-07

Plan the ultimate Florida vacation.

(NewsUSA) - Sponsored News - Planning a Florida vacation? The greater Fort Lauderdale area is among the most popular South Florida destinations. For outdoor enthusiasts, Greater Fort Lauderdale features 23 miles of Blue Wave-certified beaches, as well as more than 300 miles of inland waterways for sightseeing. This beach resort destination offers a range of daytime and nighttime options for entertainment, shopping and dining.

The area is accessible via the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, which offers flights from all major points in the United States and Canada. In addition, the Greater Fort Lauderdale area is home to the Port Everglades cruise port, which hosts a range of luxurious and popular cruise lines on a regular basis.

An affordable package now available in Fort Lauderdale makes it even easier to plan a vacation. The “Vacation Like a VIP” package features a variety of hotel upgrades and discounts on dining, shopping and entertainment to appeal to a range of travelers.

The Vacation Like a VIP package is available at 11 Lauderdale Luxe hotels, including the Diplomat Resort & Spa, Fort Lauderdale Marriott Pompano Beach Resort & Spa, Fort Lauderdale Harbor Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, Lago Mar Resort and Club, Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort, Pelican Grand Beach Resort, Ritz-Carlton Fort Lauderdale, Royal Blues Hotel, Sonesta Fort Lauderdale Beach, W Fort Lauderdale and the Westin Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort.

The package includes free valet parking and a room upgrade at select Lauderdale Luxe hotels, along with a $25 American Express gift card and a $100 resort credit that may be used for food and beverage, golf, spa services, pool and beach cabana fees, water activities and kids’ programs (where available). The package also has options for free valet parking and a “Savings Passport” at the nearby Colonnade Outlets at Sawgrass Mills, as well as a Summer Savings 2-for-1 card, valued at $200.

The Vacation Like a VIP package is available for travel between May 1 and September 30, 2016, with a minimum two-night stay. For more information, visit www.sunny.org/vip.

For additional information about how to make the most of your Florida vacation, contact the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau at (800) 22-SUNNY or visit www.sunny.org. You also can get the latest information, tips and advice on Florida travel by contacting the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau via social media channels including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Foursquare and Pinterest: @visitlauderdale.

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Relax and Engage: 4 Ways to Learn On Vacation

Brandpoint  |  2016-03-08

Students at the Sailing School at Chautauqua Institution.

(BPT) - With busy schedules and jam packed to-do lists, people often view vacations as a time to simply lounge by the beach and soak up the sun. And while that may sound like paradise, when was the last time you truly pursued a passion, goal or curiosity?

Vacation is a great time to take your goals and passions off the back burner. A learning vacation can help you reclaim old interests and discover places you never knew existed. One of the best learning vacation destinations is in western New York State. Home of Chautauqua Institution and many other learning venues, it’s a place to both relax and grow your mind. Whether you’re traveling with family, friends or all on your own, here are some of the best ways to learn on vacation:

Find a destination focused on education

Instead of booking a flight to your ordinary vacation spot, why not try somewhere new? Take an adventure to a destination known for learning. The Chautauqua Institution is known for its life-long and vacation learning program. This educational center founded in 1874 on Chautauqua Lake features 750 acres of historic buildings, vacation homes and cottages, the grand Athenaeum Hotel and a nine-week summer schedule filled with learning opportunities for all ages. Nearby, the City of Jamestown is home to the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History, the Robert H. Jackson Center for Justice and the Lucille Ball - Desi Arnaz Center for Comedy.

Go somewhere to learn a new activity

Is there a sport, activity or hobby you’ve always wanted to try? If you’re interested in birds or nature, choose to vacation in a place with recreational trails and nature gardens. If you’ve always wanted to give skiing or snowboarding a shot, find a resort like Peek’n Peak Resort in Chautauqua County with learning academies focused on winter sports as well as golf. From sailing and kayaking to fly fishing and stand up paddling, the possibilities are endless for what you can learn in western New York.

Be adventurous with food and drink

Make a point to try a dish you’ve never tasted at least once per day on your vacation. Challenge yourself to get out of your comfort zone and taste the local cuisine. Wherever you’re staying, ask for recommendations on which restaurants to check out. You could even poll some locals to find the best places to go for coffee, and any other must-visit places. Wine enthusiasts can research local wineries to schedule tours and tastings to discover a new favorite and learn how it’s made. Lake Erie Wine Country has several wineries, events and attractions to keep you informed and entertained while relaxing on vacation.

Make travel friends

Traveling gives you the opportunity to meet people from all over the world. Strike up a conversation with the couple or family next to you at lunch and you could end up making some life-long friendships. Staying in a locally owned hotel or bed and breakfast can also be easy ways to interact with new people on a daily basis. Look for dining and sight-seeing partners; you never know who you’ll meet.

Put a fresh spin on your vacation planning this year. Design a learning vacation, enjoy new experiences and return home feeling revived and refreshed. For more information and educational ideas, visit www.tourchautauqua.com.

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