08 May 2016

They Finally Lost One

The City Council of Austin passed regulations on ride sharing services, and Uber and Lyft spent millions in an attempt to override the vote through a plebiscite, and lost:
Uber and Lyft spent nearly $9 million on a May 7 special election in Austin, Texas. They offered free rides to the polls, and texted users asking for their support. They pulled out all the stops in a political playbook that has worked in almost every other city in the US.

For once, it wasn’t enough.

Voters in the Texan capital came out against Proposition 1, upholding ride-hailing regulations that the city council passed in December. The rules are stricter than ones that Uber and Lyft face in other jurisdictions: They require drivers for the services to pass fingerprint-based background checks, to identify their cars with company emblems, and to avoid picking up and dropping off passengers in certain lanes.
That is to say, exactly the same requirements as exist for the taxis.

Uber, I think decided, they were going to make Austin an example to the nation,” said David Butts, a local political consultant who helped coordinate the campaign against Proposition 1, according to a report in the Austin American-Statesman. “And Austin made Uber an example to the nation.”

Ahead of the vote, both Uber and Lyft had threatened to leave Austin should the proposition fail. Austin mayor Steve Adler invited them to stay despite the election results.


The nay vote on Proposition 1 is all the more crushing for Uber and Lyft considering the lopsided amount of money they spent in favor of it. The companies invested a combined $8.7 million to support the proposition via their lobbying committee, Ridesharing Works for Austin, an unprecedented sum in Austin local politics. That dwarfed the $132,000 that Proposition 1’s opponents strung together from about 500 individual contributions, according to campaign finance filings.


Uber and Lyft have cultivated the impression that their services are indispensable to cities. But Uber in particular has also spun itself as politically unbeatable. It has the money; it has the policy talent; it has the app that makes reaching potential voters as simple as sending a text or push notification to their phones.


That’s a potent narrative. With the loss in Austin, it’s starting to come undone.
The myth of inevitability and invincibility is central to Uber's and Lyft'ssuccess.

It is what allows them to move into new markets, break the law, cheat their employees, place their customers at risk, and create a multi-billion dollar stock valuation.

It may not be the beginning of the end for the lawless players in the "sharing economy", but it might be the end of the beginning.


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