Uber is locked into fierce fights across the country with local governments and its drivers over what its obligations are under regulations. Uber argues that it is an innovative company that local governments and established taxi companies want to bully. Local governments argue that Uber isn’t abiding by regulations that ensure safety and fair competition.
The fights are happening in cities across America and countries across the world. Uber and Lyft have pulled out of Austin, Texas over a rule that doesn’t exempt their drivers from mandatory fingerprints and background checks. Uber and Lyft drivers in San Francisco will be required to maintain business licenses, at a cost of $91 per year, and abide by vehicle inspections. Uber argues its drivers are independent contractors, but some of the drivers are taking part in a class action suit arguing that they are employees, which would require Uber to provide them greater benefits.
Taylor Millard, a blogger for HotAir.com, host of the Saturday Night Cigar Lounge show, and critic of the racist pro-Trump “#Cuckservative” movement, wrote about the controversy these new economy apps are facing in California and criticized the local governments for what he viewed as heavy-handed overregulation.
The government shouldn’t have so much personal information about drivers and Airbnb users, some of which is publicly available online, he argued. Furthermore, these regulations are just to help protect politically-connected incumbents taxi industry, he wrote:
It’s pretty obvious why both San Francisco and Los Angeles want to do this: money. For San Francisco, it’s a chance to get around $3.3M total from Uber and Lyft drivers a year. It also provides protection for the taxi cab industry which is seeing its rates decline because of Uber and Lyft’s popularity. By protecting the taxi cab industry, the politicians make sure their own campaign accounts stay full. Los Angeles could reap in plenty of cash from their own hotel tax for affordable housing, while also protecting those massive Hilton and Marriott hotels strewn across the city. It’s the perfect set up for both cities to get their monetary cake and eat it too.
I wanted to get to know better the conservative position on Uber and regulations, so I asked him. After all, Republicans have mentioned Uber as an issue on which to try to appeal to millennials, and they have a “Support Uber” petition on its website. But what kind of regulation, if any, should Uber face? So I asked Millard. Here is our email interview:
Mitchell Blatt: If taxi companies and licensed hotels have to abide by one set of regulations, that require them, for example, to purchase insurance and pay occupancy taxes, but Uber and Airbnb (and other such companies) don’t have to abide by those regulations, would that be fair competition?
Taylor Millard: Here’s the issue you briefly touched on: conservatives aren’t supposed to love overregulation. What this means is maybe instead of looking to regulate Uber and Airbnb, cities and states should be looking at DE-regulating hotels and taxis. This was something California Senator Patricia Bates brought up during a debate in April on statewide regulations for Uber/Lyft (the measure thankfully failed and reeked of cronyism). The city of Austin’s own Taxi Director suggested deregulating the industry for a “more level playing field.” It’s ridiculous so many people on the Right and the Left rush to government to solve problems, instead of letting the free-market decide.
This is obviously easier said, than done because the government wants to get whatever money it can get. Maybe the small moves by governments to consider getting out of regulation (as small as it’s been) will help.
MB: Should Uber drivers be exempted from the regulation and/or law that they need to have business licenses to operate as independent contractors? How should possible exemptions be determined?
TM: Why do businesses need a license to operate? I know that sounds like an odd question to ask, but it’s one I’ve seriously been wondering about. I get the idea of “public safety,” but the overregulation from government seems to hinder things more than they help. For example, some friends of mine run their own business out of their home. They have to register as a corporation to be able to operate. That seems ridiculous to me.
I remember the fight in San Antonio over food trucks where the City Council was trying to keep food trucks from being near restaurants. That’s unneeded protectionism, just like the regulations trying to protect taxi companies. So deregulate the entire thing and let people run businesses how they want.
MB: Do you think the kind of changes caused (or at least illustrated by, if not directly caused) by apps such as Uber and Airbnb and the “sharing economy,” in that they are resulting in more people taking freelance jobs that could be less stable, fueling the economic anxiety of the Trump and Sanders movements?
TM: Yea and no. I think what you’re seeing is politicians trying to protect certain business interests of their donors. When that happens, it causes anxiety because you have this tension between industries. This is why Uber had to hire a lobbyist to fight back against the taxi industry. Uber decided it was time to start “playing the game,” which is an unfortunate side effect of cronyism and humongous government.
The other issue you’ve got are people still mad (justifiably) over the 2008/2009 bailouts. Despite comments from the Obama Administration, the economy still isn’t back to where it could be. What you see with Sanders and his ilk are the blame placed on lobbyists and corporations. This is misguided anger because it really should be directed at the politicians who are willing to accept donations for later favors. If more politicians were willing to stick to their principles, this wouldn’t be an issue. One thing I loved in Batman v. Superman was when a senator refused to do a favor for Lex Luthor, even though she’d taken a donation from him. Yes, businesses will lobby for favors. But it’s up to the politician to decide whether or not he/she will accept said favor.
This is why I think the rules for campaign finance should be changed to let businesses donate to whoever they want, as long as the politicians release the information to the public in a way that’s easily accessible. If Texas can do that, why can’t Washington, DC? This way, the voters and media can learn which politician is beholden to which industry.
The anger from the Trump camp is similar, but the focus is different. It’s on immigrants who “terk er jerbs” (to quote South Park) or on corporations for leaving the U.S. for greener pastures. But the anger needs to be on government (federal/state/local) for causing these problems with major regulations and taxes. The problem is that’s not a sexy thing to get people mad at (just like campaign finance). People would rather see payback or “economic patriotism,” instead of actual solutions.
The things I advocate will take years to accomplish (and I know this). Doesn’t mean I won’t fight for it.
Feature photo from Latrell G’s YouTube video “Ghetto Uber Driver.”