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Uber v. Taxis: A Metaphor

On one side you have entrepreneurs, smart phones, and the trendy, on the other: unions, regulations and institutions.

What’s a progressive to do? I support unions and reasonable regulation, and being an older dude, certain institutions. But the times they are a changin’. Is it a bad thing that someone with a decent rig and time on their hands shouldn’t make some extra cash? Plus, consumers get more availability and options.

Then again, there are the union cab drivers trying to make a living, municipal incomes from licensing and fees, and the ethically-challenged Uber management style.

Not to mention a safety issue: bad driving, assaults, and sexual harassment at the hands of amateur, poorly-regulated Uber drivers. (On the flip side, one of the scariest rides of my life was from a San Fransisco cabbie who thought he was Steve McQueen from the movie Bullitt.)

Uber has been in the Montana news lately and it could be a metaphor for an economy in transition and, perhaps, our political landscape. This is unchartered territory. The old business models are out the window.

I’ve been following the debate over at a 4&20 post critical of Uber (and of some Democrats advancing Uber-style apps). It’s the free marketeers and new economy v. regulation and worker protection.

But this extends beyond Uber. There are Airbnb and VRBO, challenging the hospitality industry; all the LBS (Location Based Services) threatening retail, marketing, advertising and billing businesses. Medicine, law and education all have their apps.

From the Gaurdian:

But as Silicon Valley looks ever more closely at “disrupting” the real world economy, and the legislation that binds it, the culture wars look set to intensify.

How progressives weigh in on the economics, politics and culture of this brave, new world could be paramount to our future.  If possible, instead of playing catch up, we need to stay ahead of this.




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  • Uber has a history of doing business in a town before it has permission to do so, then begging forgiveness for its sins. “People were just so happy to find my ride I just had to help them.” And unlike a local contractor who builds a house before applying for the building permit, Uber gets away with it. Ask Portland, OR.

    Furthermore, these are not jobs with union protection. Uber drivers are independent contractors (an issue under litigation in California), a situation that would please Alan Greenspan, the Kochies, and Ayn Rand.

    Blessing Uber’s party crashing business model is understandable given the sorry nature of the taxi business, but I suspect this will not turn out to be one of the legislature’s finest moments.

    • I hear what you’re saying, James. Uber would need a lot tighter licensing and regulation before I could get behind it. That being said, I don’t think the PSC should be regulating this industry; it has enough on its plate. It should be up to municipalities and the legislature to set guidelines. And if a town, city or state says no to Uber (or Lyft or Airbnb or whatever) those businesses need to respect that.
      I was trying to paint a larger picture, though. How do progressives respond to the economic shifts inherent in our future? We need to get a handle on this and be on the right (meaning correct) side of the debate.

      • parsing regulatory jurisdiction? the flood gates are open now. and the pumps don’t work because the vandals took the handles.

  • Uber fails the 4 point test,used in Montana, to determine employment status, as is can end its'”partnership”, with its’ drivers, at anytime .Jim Messina,Mat McKenna, and Kate Downen all work for Uber now. These 3 were spokespeople, for the Montana Democratic party for more than the last decade. Working for Tester, Baucus, Bullock and the Montana Democratic Party as a whole. They also more recently, worked at a national level for Clinton’s as well as Obama and David Cameron? All three likely enjoy greater basic worker rights than those of Ubers’ drivers. There is the rub, the race to the bottom,the death of the middle class. Bullock signed Ubers’ bill, with little fanfare, during Montana’s small business week. The atrophied arm of the Montana Tavern Association, the D.U. I. task force is sorry in nature. Failed lawyers working as legislators,are responsible for the framework under which taxis must operate. There is nothing new about the rich, enriching themselves. As for the new sharing economy, it is not sharing, if payment is required. Standing shoulder to shoulder, with Sen. Fred Thomas, discussing deregulation, should have only been done with a rope,and a tall tree close at hand.

  • This same type of debate was playing out about 20 years ago, between the monopoly landline system owned by Ma Bell and its start-up competitors. The argument in favor of the former was that it paid high wages, that it was regulated by state utility commissions, that it performed a social-welfare function (using its lucrative urban monopoly to offer subsidies to rural or low-income consumers). Nonetheless, government stood aside (in some ways) and the following 20 years have seen the flourishing of competitive long-distance services, mobile telephony, VoIP over dedicated systems, over-the-top phone services like Skype, etc. There is still nostalgia for Ma Bell in some places, but I think the consensus is that the public has benefited enormously by freeing up the telecommunications industry.

    There are differences between telecom and the passenger motor-carrier industry, but the fundamentals are the same. We have a technology, as Pete says, that is disrupting the way things have always been done — and the way things have always been done is being held up (rather baselessly) as an innately safer, better-paying, regulated, you-name-it way of doing things.

    I’m glad SB 396 passed because it makes clear that 1) the PSC (which regulates these carriers) should not subject motor carrier businesses to a test of whether or not the market “needs” them and whether or not their would-be competitors cannot or will not meet that “need,” before a new company (be it a Transportation Network Carrier or another taxi company) starts operating; 2) the PSC will be the safety regulator of TNCs like Uber.

    Before Uber or a company like it starts in Montana, it still must apply for a license to the PSC, and at that time existing companies may file fitness-related protests. Additionally, the PSC has just started a rulemaking in preparing to enact SB 396. A formal public comment period will soon open, so please stay tuned!

    Travis Kavulla
    Montana Public Service Commissioner

    • there are already reports of Uber drivers operating in Missoula, Travis. if that’s true, what are you going to do about? if they didn’t get a license, and are operating illegally, what mechanisms do you have to stop them?

      • If someone calls us with specifics about a complaint we will investigate. We are at 444-6199.

        A couple Fridays and Saturdays ago I turned on the Uber app to see if drivers were on the road in Missoula. There weren’t any. (Uber allows you to see all operating cars through their app)

        • Thats another BS story too. The PSC has no Enforcement Mechanisms in Place for A,B or E class drivers. The Taxi industry has filed numerous complaints against people who do fly by night taxi Biz for years. they are still operating today. The PSC has done nothing and continues to do nothing

    • Travis, everything you just wrote here was a lie, and what you told legislators to get SB396 passed was a lie. No Monopolies exist with these 70 little spits of Business. They hardly have business conversations, or share any type of information to be a Monopoly.

      Lets face it you don’t give a damn for Home Grown Montana Business, because they didn’t wave a Campaign donation in your Face like Uber did

      Do you know what a monopoly even is Travis??? Maybe I should talk simply so you get the Jist of its definition. Amtrak is a monopoly! Much the same as you have mishandled the Taxi industry. Everything about Taxis in this state is handled the same way as the Federal Government handles Amtrak. Regulations this state overuses on the Taxi businesses, to keep it feeble, incapable of growing positively for the people’s sake. The Airline industry is handled the same way, and nobody calls it a Monopoly. Nobody in their right mind that is.

      You deregulate UBER, and leave Taxis regulated unable to change prices or tariffs or the turf you okayed. You allow Uber drivers anonymity, to the point if a UBER driver gets into an accident. the poor schmuck hit by one of those Uber vehicles and lying in a Hospital bed will never know his attacker…. if the guy drove away from the scene. and Uber will fight not to pay for it Just like it is doing for all the public it’s drivers have maimed, killed, or raped.

      Lastly you facilitate an Organization like Uber to lie to its drivers. Not a taxi company in this state has a driver that makes close to 28.00 and hour or 900 a week??? thats what Uber is advertising on Craigslist to get drivers! Hell most of the real taxi businesses don’t make that much a month. Oh and they forget to tell the poor Idiot driving for them that they are responsible for the Gas, Maintenance, and regular Insurance on top of that.

      The funniest thing is gonna be when the calls to the Uber drivers get dropped right when they push the “Got ride” button. Its a national problem with the APP. Everyone knows we have spotty Cell Phone reception all over the state in particular….. If an Uber driver starts losing money because of the reception, with the same UBER app they have been having problems with all over the country, how long do you think they will last as drivers before joining the 2 ongoing Ninth circuit cases UBER and LYFT Drivers have in federal court? When Uber et al, has to start paying for drivers as employees instead of independent contractors…. Health insurance, Unemployment insurance, Maintenance costs, gas, and driver hours….. How long do you think Uber will last in this state without having to prove the “Necessity and convenience” regulations you make Taxi services have too follow??? Not very long!

      You Lied to the people of this state and you wrote new laws hoping no one would notice that everything a Taxi business does in this state is heavily regulated to fail. and you gave us the areas we work in. Its pretty easy to prove a takings case at this point.

      Before the Legislature Has a chance to fix this terrible problem you Lobbied on Ubers behalf for… Half the Taxi businesses in this state will fold, leaving hardly anyone to pick up passengers for in this state. You and Ellie HIll Boldman, who started this mess. Will be the last to be picked up in this state when it all goes under…. And Ill be laughing all the way to the bank as a taxi business that Uber cant beat the prices on

  • Oh and you grizz fans, get ready to start paying twice as much with UBER for Grizz Games transportation, Twice as much when it snows or we have bad weather of any kind which Montana is famous for and twice as much on Holidays than a regular taxi pricing, twice as much when the Bars close. all because you couldn’t wait on a regular taxi. You didn’t plan ahead, or you dont know how to dial a number but you can push a button on an APP??????

    Thats how UBER gets out their drivers to drive. Its a greed factor. It is built into their app, and you will pay the price. No matter what little Po-dunk town you live in here in Montana.

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Pete Talbot

'Papa’ Pete Talbot is first and foremost a grandfather to five wonderful grandchildren. Like many Montanans, he has held numerous jobs over the years: film and video producer, a partner in a marketing and advertising firm, a builder and a property manager. He’s served on local and statewide Democratic Party boards. Pete has also been blogging at various sites for over a decade. Ping-pong and skiing are his favorite diversions. He enjoys bourbon.

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