Uber Still Facing Battle for Its Life in Various American Localities


While the U.S. is still not detaining Uber execs like they do in France, the wonderful smartphone app ride-summoning service still faces a fair amount of hostility in the U.S. from competitors, and from city governments often acting on behalf of its competitors. (In November 2014 I surveyed the state of the legal fight against Uber, Lyft, and similar companies in a long Reason feature.)

As Stephanie Slade reported here last month, New York City politicians are floating a plan to reduce growth in Uber and Uber-like services to one percent a year while they study New Yorkers transportation options. Michael Goodwin of the New York Post sees political skulduggery at work:

The council said it wanted to "freeze" the number of app-hailed cars for a year while the study played out, and the mayor's office instantly shouted amen.

No previous traffic study ever required a freeze of emerging technology, a fact nobody attempted to defend. Instead, trying to add a sheen of class warfare, Mayor Bill de Blasio's taxi boss, Meera Joshi, assailed Uber and Lyft as options that offer "instant gratification" for the "privileged."….

Taxi moguls, meaning big owners of yellow medallions, have long been hefty donors to de Blasio, and gave over $500,000 to his mayoral campaign.

Similarly, council members pushing the legislation have been cozy with the owners, and one, Ydanis Rodriguez, head of the Transportation Committee, even suggested a bailout for owners because competition is lowering the value of the city-issued medallions.

The leader of the anti-Uber movement is Gene Freidman, the so-called taxi king because he owns over 900 medallions….

The pattern and the connections, along with the extraordinary attempt to protect a wealthy monopoly, raise suspicions that demand answers.

Who coordinated the push for the legislation? Who first suggested a cap for the non-medallion cars? Who suggested freezing the current numbers during the congestion study? What promises, if any, were made?

As one insider who knows the issues said to me, "There has to be a dirty deal here. The whole thing makes no sense otherwise."

While it doesn't make sense, hostility from a political class captured both financially and intellectually by entrenched interests is widespread far beyond New York.

For example, St. Louis recently scotched Uber plans to give free rides for a weekend over taxi commission permitting demands on its drivers. And Key West is threatening all Uber drivers with arrest if they try to operate in its quaint little town, after Uber admitted defeat in South Florida's Broward County (in a move doubtless intended to make regulators back down under customer/voter pressure). And of course the shadow of having its contract drivers declared employees, with all the crushing expenses that could come with it, hangs over the industry in California.

The rideshare app companies have won customer love and regulator attention by mostly operating first and asking questions later, a strategy that may cause them more and more trouble ahead, though I have to believe that life-improving tech will eventually beat hidebound rules.

By the way, a boo to both Uber and Lyft for their (within their legal rights!) barring of weapons for both customers and drivers, inconveniently announced after an armed Uber driver wounded a gunman who was shooting into a crowd in Chicago.