Unless you live under a rock, it was hard to miss the showdown this past week in New York City between Mayor Bill De Blasio and ridesharing platform Uber.
Uber faced a De Blasio-supported proposal to cap its growth, as the mayor blamed the platform for causing traffic congestion and harming the taxi industry. With the help of a wide range of media including a New York Times ad, a television ad and even a De Blasio-themed ride service, Uber was able to successfully stop De Blasio’s assault.
The company even got some unexpected celebrity support on social media, including tweets from current Broadway star Neil Patrick Harris:
— Neil Patrick Harris (@ActuallyNPH) July 22, 2015
And Frozen star Kristen Bell:
And supermodel Kate Upton:
— Kate Upton (@KateUpton) July 22, 2015
Meanwhile, over on Facebook, actor Ashton Kutcher — apparently taking to heart the philosophy of the man he recently portrayed, Steve Jobs — delivered what appeared to be a full-blown manifesto in favor of innovation and the sharing economy: Even if they were somewhat obviously part of a coordinated public relations push, bearing the #UberMovesNYC hashtag, the celebrity tweets apparently did have an impact:
This obviously wasn’t the first time Uber and other ridesharing services have faced difficulties with state and local lawmakers and regulators in New York. From this week’s showdown, to earlier this summer in the Hamptons, to the state Senate and Assembly failing to advance ridesharing legislation during this year’s legislative session, New York has developed a harsh reputation for its handling of transportation network companies.
Even in the recent past, it would have not been uncommon to see TNCs face battles on so many different local fronts within a state. However, now as almost 65 percent of states have either enacted or pending ridesharing legislation, it is becoming less and less common to see such discrepancies. This leaves us to ask, when will we see changes? And, even more intriguingly, why New York?
Unfortunately, since the state Legislature has adjourned for this year, the answer to the first question won’t come until at least 2016. To answer the second question, one of the main catalysts for such a heightened statewide inclination to regulate and limit TNCs has been private interests.
With New York City possessing roughly 48 percent of the state’s overall population, it makes sense that the taxi industry has been able to play such an influential role in both the city and state as a whole. Combined with the fact that New York is a primarily Democratic state, its exerted levels of control over the likes of Uber have been shocking to no one.
Moving away from the city to a location like the Hamptons, the town of East Hampton required all drivers to maintain a physical business presence in the town. While this decision left many scratching their head, it can be simply broken down into being both a form of excessive regulation that favors incumbent local businesses, as well as a means for the town to keep tax revenues within its borders.
This tale of private interests playing a role in government regulations has been seen countless times before with ridesharing services; nevertheless, in very few of the previous instances have any of these private interests held complete control of bodies to the degree they do the behemoth that is the New York City Taxi Commission.
To the disappointment of many, this is also certainly not the last we’ll hear of Mayor De Blasio attempting to regulate Uber and defend his “beloved campaign contributor,” the taxi industry.
The task of taking on the private interests and regulators of New York state may seem like a daunting one, but if we look at what Uber did this past week in New York City, it stands as an example of how we can combat those who stand against innovation and consumer interests.
Beyond the usual arguments advocates point to when defending the TNCs – including job growth, innovation and convenience – that beneficial these services have been, there is another aspect of Uber’s impact that should speak volumes in New York. During his 2013 campaign for mayor, Bill De Blasio took 52 Uber rides in comparison to just 18 cabs.
It may be a long way to 2016, when New York can finally establish fair and permanent legislation, but if one thing’s for sure, it’s going to take one heck of a fight to get Uber to back out of the Empire State.