I am not particularly a fan of the ride-sharing service Uber. Although in general I am not a fan of occupational licensing and monopolistic barriers to entry, I would rather have a well-regulated taxi fleet than a giant corporation with lousy attitudes toward labor and safety. Especially if said corporation acts like a peevish child.
So I am, of course, not amused by this:
Austin City Council members are considering regulations for ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft. If passed, the City would collect fees from these companies, and also impose fingerprint-based background checks on drivers. On Thursday, Uber launched a campaign against the Council member who initiated these regulations.Not named for the room in your house, but District 5 Council Member Ann Kitchen. The service area spans from five square blocks downtown – from Nueces Street to Congress Avenue, stretching from Cesar Chavez Boulevard to Fifth Street – charges a flat $50 fee, doesn’t operate before 6 p.m., and won’t operate in the rain. There’s another caveat to the service: its drivers only operate a horse and buggy.
“When you open it up no cars are available right now and you see what life was like before Uber in Austin,” says Chris Nakutis, general manager of Uber Texas. He says the ridesharing requirements proposed by Kitchen will push Uber out of Austin, Kitchen begs to differ.
“These rules are not about about getting rid of Uber,” she says, responding to Uber’s campaign today. “The fact that a corporation is attacking the Council because they don’t want to comply with safety rules is disgraceful.”
Uber, of course, has every right to engage in politics, and I have to admire the targeting of their campaign. But let’s not get fooled by faux-populism; any industry that can afford to pay high-powered consultants like Chris Lehane (of Airbnb and formerly the Clinton White House) and David Plouffe (of Uber and formerly the Obama White House) is one that wields plenty of power.
Per the New York Times, the strong-arming is about to get serious:
Airbnb offered the latest and most vociferous example of this on Wednesday. Fresh off defeating a San Francisco measure that would have severely curtailed the company’s business in its hometown, Airbnb staged a news conference that functioned as a warning shot to other cities thinking about proposing new regulations.
The event was billed as a debriefing to discuss the defeat of Proposition F, which would have toughened existing rules for the service by, among other things, cutting the number of nights people could rent out rooms in their homes.
But the briefing was less about the actual election than an attempt to turn the results into a mandate for the sharing economy.
Chris Lehane, a Washington political operative who now serves as Airbnb’s head of global policy and public affairs, framed Proposition F as a hotel-industry-led attack on the middle class.
In this city of about 840,000 people, roughly $8 million was raised by groups opposed to Proposition F — about eight times the amount raised by the proposition’s backers, according to records filed with the San Francisco Ethics Commission.
Assuming, ad arguendo, that Crazy Don Zimmerman’s lawsuit gets thrown out, Austin will still have fairly tight rules regarding campaign donations. But I would not be surprised if Uber tried to scare candidates (especially those who are not as established as Ann Kitchen) with PACs, issue-ads, astroturfing and other general shenanigans.
Watch for it.