Uber has gained a deserved reputation as a bully in promoting its interests in the ride-hailing business, which has been rocked by allegations of criminal behavior by some drivers.
Over the weekend, however, voters in Austin, Texas, rejected the industry’s incredibly costly $8 million campaign to kill city regulations governing Uber and competitors such as Lyft. Voters decided they preferred local public safety rules over the weaker ones Uber and others want to follow.
Uber and Lyft on Monday looked like crybabies as they suspended service in Austin. They apparently now hope to get state lawmakers to kill Austin’s regulations.
That kind of bluster should sound familiar to Kansas Citians and others in Missouri, where the industry is battling in Jefferson City to pass statewide rules it supports.
But the General Assembly should reject this effort to eliminate local control.
▪ The Kansas City Council made a deal last year with Uber and others on how city ordinances would apply to them and the taxicab industry.
Uber initially pronounced itself pleased with the pact, which it had obtained — stop us if you’ve heard this before — after stomping its feet and saying it would have to leave the city if things didn’t change. That agreement hasn’t run its course yet, and the city and companies have not fully evaluated how it worked and whether it can be altered for the better.
▪ Public safety ought to be at the top of the list for lawmakers at the state and local levels when regulating this industry.
Uber, Lyft and others claim they’re all for public safety — they just don’t want to follow the strict terms outlined by specific cities. They’d rather have a statewide set of rules, which is odd because they have chosen to make major pushes only in the larger markets you’d expect, such as Kansas City and St. Louis. Those cities naturally have decided to make sure the vehicle-for-hire companies follow some strict local public safety rules.
The Missouri House last week approved Uber-friendly legislation, and the next stop is the Senate, with Friday evening adjournment staring all in the face. Fortunately, senators haven’t seemed as willing to kowtow to the ride-hailing industry.
Uber, Lyft and others have done an excellent job of rethinking how to supply a simple service — getting people from one spot to another in a vehicle — using modern technology. Many customers in Kansas City and elsewhere strongly support these companies and the new competition they have created.
But the mixed-bag part comes when the businesses wrongly decide that “old-fashioned” rules shouldn’t apply to them. All the mumbo-jumbo about smartphone apps and other tools of the new ride-hailing trade don’t eliminate the need to properly regulate this industry.