Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
October 30, 2014

From Milwaukee to Milan, Uber’s Battles Are Mostly Local

450441348 web 445x295 From Milwaukee to Milan, Ubers Battles Are Mostly Local

London black-cab drivers protest against Uber on June 11. Thousands of cabs filled the roads around Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square and Parliament. (Carl Court/AFP/Getty Images)

The regulatory battles over Uber — the taxi-hailing service that has sparked protests from established taxi drivers in London, Paris, Milan, and San Francisco — may have global significance as an indicator of how regulated markets with high barriers to entry cope with disruptive competition. But the regulatory ruckus is being fought on the state and municipal level, not in the halls of Congress.

Uber does have a Washington lobbyist — Senate lobbying disclosure records indicate that it paid lobbying firm Franklin Square Group $30,000 in first quarter of this year — but you have to look to venues such as the Common Council of Milwaukee to follow the battle.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the city’s council would on Tuesday consider a proposed ordinance that “would require services like Uber and Lyft to follow the same permitting and vehicle inspection requirements as conventional public passenger vehicle drivers.” But local TV station WISN reported Tuesday that the council postponed action on the ordinance for a month.

Nelson Chan, a researcher at the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley, cited some recent some notable challenges for Uber and another car service, Lyft:

  • Late March: San Antonio police announce they would arrest Lyft drivers, but the Mayor Julian Castro spoke out in support of the car service.
  • June 5: Virginia’s Department of Motor Vehicles send a cease-and-desist unauthorized operations order to Uber.
  • June 10: California Public Utilities Commission President Michael Peevey send a letter to ridesharing operators regarding their operations at airports, which were prohibited by a CPUC decision. He asks the companies to shut down airport operations within two weeks.
  • June 17: The California Senate begins hearings on two bills that would impose more regulations on ridesharing companies. One measure would require ridesharing companies follow same rules as taxi companies (e.g., driver background checks, vehicle decals). The other would require commercial insurance coverage for the driver, even when not directly on a ride request trip.

Meanwhile the Boston Globe reported last week that in Cambridge, Mass., the city’s License Commission “proposed subjecting Uber and other so-called ride-sharing services to same regulations as taxi cabs, and other restrictions that would be likely to limit its service and possibly drive up costs of a trip.”

This proposal, the Globe said, “enraged Uber’s fans, many of whom were dumbfounded that a city they identify as a cradle of innovation would dare to bring so bold an innovator as Uber to heel….”

The newspaper noted that, “Cabbies complain the company is operating a shadow taxi service without having to pay the same business costs they face. For example taxi medallions in Boston and Cambridge can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

On another front in the transportation technology struggle, CNET reported Monday that in San Francisco the city attorney, Dennis Herrera, “sent a cease and desist letter on Monday to MonkeyParking, an app that lets iPhone users auction off the street parking space they are about to vacate to other drivers….”

Herrera said selling or leasing public on-street parking is prohibited by the city’s Police Code and that MonkeyParking “creates a predatory private market for public parking spaces that San Franciscans will not tolerate.”

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