LA Times It can reach out to friendly legislators and shower them with bribes and/or campaign contributions. Or it can ignore them, and the laws on the books, and try to get its way by bullying and generally running roughshod over them. by Ted Rall
'The private pseudo-taxi service Uber clearly prefers the second approach. The company is only a few years old, yet it has rapidly expanded into
hundreds of cities around the world and potentially could be worth as
much as $50 billion.
It is celebrated and reviled as the ultimate Silicon Valley "disruptor"
of what it characterizes as a dying, archaic, out-of-touch "legacy"
industry: the taxi business. Though it is certainly debatable whether
taxis deserve to go the way of the dinosaur (disclosure: I drove a taxi in New York during the 1980s), and Uber's claims that they pay a small fortune to its drivers are, to be charitable, questionable,
what is undeniable is that the company has earned powerful, especially
among the young, supporters among its users. Some even claim to be addicted to it.
'Uber executives are banking on that base of support among influential
opinion-makers online and in legacy media outlets to protect them
against political backlash. Some of that anger is, understandably, led
by politicians beholden to the traditional taxi industry. Others are skeptical of the so-called "sharing economy"
embodied by companies such as Uber and Airbnb. They are worried that
the already hollowed out middle class will lose even more full-time jobs
to subsistence existences at the mercy of freelance gigs that come and
go at the whim of market preferences.
'There also are those who don't have an ax to grind, but insist that the
company follow the rules. Such is the apparent motivation of a
California judge who ruled last week that Uber should be suspended from
operating in the state and fined $7.3 million for willful failure to
comply with state regulations. Those rules require car companies to
document that they are not discriminating against would-be passengers,
such as disabled people and/or those who want to bring their service
'"They had a year to comply with these regulations, and didn't do it,” a
spokesperson for the California Public Utilities Commission pointed out. This isn't Uber's first time at the legal rodeo. In Europe, "More than a
dozen lawsuits have been filed in recent months in countries across the
continent, where some analysts say the company is in danger of being
shut down or becoming so entangled in legislation as to be neutered,"
report Laura J. Nelson, Andrea Chang and Paresh Dave of The Times.
'Like many fast-rising Silicon Valley startups, Uber just doesn’t seem
to understand its obligation to be subservient to government
regulations. It violates the directive on a parking garage sign that I
like to quote: "know your level." In Uber’s case, that means don't try
to box above your weight class. Michael Pachter, managing director
of equities research at Wedbush Securities, said it like this: “No
amount of bluster is going to get the CPUC off their case. You don't
pick a fight with someone who can kick your butt. Uber needs to restrain
its hubris." Excellent advice.'