The Houston Chronicle reports that Uber, the ridesharing and decentralized taxi service/app, has immediately commenced service within Houston. The news comes shortly after one of their key competitors, Lyft, announced they too would begin service in Houston. Lyft, which prides itself on not technically charging fees but rather making its income through ostensible donations, was initially deterred from beginning service in Houston until after disputes over the City’s complicated and immense taxi regulating ordinances were cleared up. However, these concerned were placated for the time being after Lyft announced they would not accept fees/donations at first. Accordingly, it would operate for free. Following this lead, Uber announced its immediate entrance into the market late on Thursday, though also pledged to be free for the time being.
Negotiations are currently underway in City Council committees to reform certain transportation regulations, but at current, if either of these services begin accepting money (either in the form of fees or donations), it would be breaking the law. Mayor Parker has historically been quite skeptical of these platforms, and I sincerely believe she would clamp down somewhat strictly on overt violations of the law by these companies.
The Taxi companies have generally warned that Uber has a history of flagrantly thumbing their nose at the rules and just setting up shop in a town they wish to expand in. I will refrain from completely agreeing with that sentiment, for now, as they have not actually violated any laws or ordinances by providing their free services. However, I am not a big fan of this strategy of negotiation they have employed. Bullying your way into the market when one gets impatient playing by the rules is not something I am especially sympathetic to. I cannot say I know the inner workings of the Council regulatory mechanisms, but I sincerely hope those in power do not feel pressure to appease Uber now that they have rushed onto the scene.
You can read my full thoughts on the subject in a previous diatribe. Needless to say, the price gouging that Uber calls “surge pricing” rubs my the wrong way, as does their misleading advertising strategy. For now, let’s just watch and see what they do here in the next few days.