Popular ride-sharing services Uber and Lyft have been under assault from local and state-level bureaucrats since their inception. In city after city, the status quo (generally, taxicab commissions) collude with government officials to set outrageous barriers to entry that keep competitors from entering the market.
These barriers range from coveted million-dollar medallions that limit the number of cars on the road to complex regulations crafted by taxicab special interests and enacted by their friends in government. In some cities, bureaucrats are even using these services, then fining the driver and impounding the vehicle.
There are even websites like “Who’s Driving You?” that seek to cast a shadow over these innovative services.
ReasonTV produced a short documentary late last year titled “Uber Wars“ about Uber’s face-off against the Washington, D.C. Council and the DC Taxicab Commission. While the battle over livery services in the nation’s capital seems to have quieted for now, it hasn’t stopped bureaucrats, police officers, and even anarchists from attacking the service in other cities.
But before delving into the anti-free market skirmishes that are breaking out in cities across the county, let’s take a look at instances where Uber and Lyft have eked out victories:
- In January of this year, the Nashville Metro City Council lowered the minimum limosine rate to just $9, allowing Uber and Lyft to expand into the Music City.
- The Georgia General Assembly failed to act on a bill that would severely restrict ridecharing services in the Peach State. Though not a step forward, it’s certainly not a step back, either.
- In a testament to the power of market competition, Lyft launched in 24 new U.S. cities on April 24, surpassing Uber in the number of U.S. cities where their service is available. The two companies are also engaged in a price war, driving their prices down and benefiting riders.
But old threats and new threats are facing these services in new cities. Undercover police officers are ticketing Uber drivers in cities like Madison, WI, and Pittsburgh, PA. That’s the same line of attack the DC Taxicab Commission used in 2012.
Local media outlets are running stories questioning whether or not drivers have background checks. Uber says it screens all of its drivers. That hasn’t stopped anti-ridesharing groups from buying ad space on Facebook calling into question the safety of the service or claiming Uber and other services are hiring sex offenders and felons.
Internationally, French cab drivers targeted and attacked Uber drivers in January during a strike over “voitures de tourisme avec chauffeurs” (roughly translated, passenger cars with drivers). The cars of Uber drivers who dared provide their services were vandalized, with windows smashed and tires slashed.
Here in the U.S., anarchists in Seattle have targeted Uber. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray suspended local regulations just a few weeks ago after a petition drive garnered more than 36,000 signatures, more than double what was required.
In a seemingly unrelated move, an anarchist collective (ironic, right?) known as The Counterforce is calling Uber “one of the most disgusting tech companies in existence” and is stopping Uber drivers and passing out literature to customers. The Counterforce has also targeted Google and “objects to the tech industry altogether,” according to a report from The Verge.
Uber, Lyft, and other popular peer-to-peer services are taking flak from all sides — from the statists to the state-less — but the march to provide affordable, innovative services hasn’t slowed. Uber is now available in 100 cities worldwide and Lyft is available in 60 cities domestically, and these hurdles don’t appear to be slowing the industry down.
UPDATE (5/1 @ 5:45pm): Demonstrating just how timely this issue is in cities all across the country, a local news site from the D.C. suburb of Arlington just published a story about cab drivers protesting Uber services. One cab driver noted, “Uber is a cancer.”
Unfortunately for the taxicab monopoly, Arlington county government is unable to change or implement regulations that would affect private delivery services because Virginia operates under the “Dillon Rule.”
The real gem in this local story is a quote from the most popular Arlington cab company’s COO, Jack Weiner, “You have to ask yourself a question: is it okay that this is only available to those affluent enough to afford it?”