The Houston Chronicle reports that Uber, the taxi/ridesharing company which has existed in a legal grey area of sorts for the past couple months, has decided to openly flaunt the law of the City of Houston and begin accepting payment for its rides. This, despite the fact that current City ordinance requires all drivers accepting money for transportation to be licensed cabbies with the City, which is admittedly a somewhat lengthy and cumbersome process, especially for a start-up. As I have said for a few months, there is a conversation that needs to be had over taxi regulations in this town. But, simply put, extortion is not the proper way to go about it.
Uber feels entitled to bully its way into the market. If there is anything that Houstonians could all rally behind, or at least I would hope, it is defending ourselves from bullies, especially those hailing from California or Dallas; Uber is a native of the former. I hope that the City Councilmembers do not stand for this preposterous attempt at intimidation. Uber says that it wants Houston to rewrite its laws to cater to them, or even come up with an amenable compromise for all parties. However, why should we trust a pledge that they would abide by newly crafted law if they have already repeatedly demonstrated their callous indifference to the laws currently on the books. The company likes to play the victim, and it rants and raves about how “unfair” and “uncompetitive” the old laws are. As I have said, that’s a sound argument, and a conversation should commence on the validity of many of these ordinances. However, now that Uber has shown that they feel above the law, what would stop them from simply ignoring any regulations that they find “unfair” or “uncompetitive” in a new set of ordinances. When is it okay for Uber to break the law? Unless your answer is “never,” something is wrong.
Perhaps it was just the way I was raised, but if I were a member of the City Council, I simply could not continue negotiating in good faith with Uber, particularly in a conciliatory manner. I would demand that the illegal operations stop completely as a precursor to the passage of any amendments in the City’s taxi code. Otherwise, it would do nothing but reward and reinforce bad behavior.
Last week, the Taxi Companies took Uber to court over its illegal operations. I would think they would redouble their case following tonight’s development. Ideally, an injunction could be issued to order Uber to stand down. Additionally, in all credit, Lyft –the other ridesharing app/company– has not began to openly violate the law at press time. I sincerely hope they continue along the path of integrity.
Make no mistake, this is not about choice and options and all those fancy buzz words that Uber enjoys using in their press releases. This is about the integrity of our local government and its susceptibility to extortion. I am not much for slippery slope fallacies, so I will not sit here and suggest absurd hypotheticals that would follow if we allow Uber to get away with violating the law (like massive littering or tax resistance), but the implications for Uber and Uber alone are serious enough. Getting bullied into changing laws when none of the representatives of the government were elected on the issue at hand is bad enough, but it sets a dangerous precedent for future engagements with the bully.