Uber: The case of the fox guarding the henhouse

Unpublished, April 28, 2016

These Austin folk, they're trouble. Hell, it's cost me north of $10 million. If these smarty-pants remember the fox guarding the henhouse proverb before they vote, I may be done for.

[Author update: Uber and Lyft lost Austin’s May 7 election by a margin of 56 to 44 percent, making national news.]

 As a casual observer, it looks to me like Uber and Lyft rode into town in 2013, operating outside the law. People liked the service, so the Austin City Council, taking seriously its responsibility for public safety, thoughtfully crafted an ordinance that passed in December.

The companies found the ordinance unacceptable. How did they deal with it? The same way they’ve bullied regulators around the world. Here, they circulated a recall petition to oust the council member who worked hardest on the ordinance, Ann Kitchen, and they actually wrote their own ordinance that we will vote on May 7.

Really? If Uber doesn’t like our law they write their own?

Hey, I want to be Uber. The proletariat can vote on which ordinance they want, but not until I’ve aired TV and radio ads and flooded them with constant mailings of large, color, glossy fliers giving the impression that a “for” vote is for us to stay in town, or a for vote is for criminal background checks of drivers; an “against” vote is for a “city takeover.” That’ll scare ’em.

The elderly woman in an Uber flier bears a striking resemblance to Hallmark's Maxine character.

The elderly woman in an Uber flier bears a striking resemblance to Hallmark’s Maxine character.

And I’ll bet the younger folks got a big kick out of my flier that depicted an elderly woman as Hallmark’s Maxine. Haha. They love me!

And I organized a political action committee recruiting my drivers to lobby for me. We call them “peers.” It’s heart-warming, but strange that they’re so passionately loyal to me. After paying for their own gas, car maintenance and car insurance — and my capturing 20 percent of their fares — they’re barely earning minimum wage a lot of the time! Some call it labor exploitation, but they seem to like it, and the genius is since they contract and are not my employees, I’m not accountable or responsible for them! The peers don’t even seem to know I’m working on driverless cars to replace them.

These Austin folk, on the other hand, they’re trouble. I think their intelligence quotient may be higher than the other cities I’ve manipulated. Hell, it’s cost me north of $10 million. If these smarty-pants remember the fox guarding the henhouse proverb before they vote, I may be done for. Hopefully they won’t figure out until after the election that a vote “for” Prop 1 is a vote for my ordinance and that a vote “against” Prop 1 is to stick with the city ordinance.

Help me brainstorm here about the three sticking points in the city’s ordinance that really burn my bacon:

•      Fingerprinting — This comes up in every city I go into, and I’m getting pissed off about it. There’s nothing wrong with my method where the applicant gives me his or her or someone’s name that we can run a criminal background check on. Alleged sexual assaults by our drivers are giving us a bad name, dammit, not to mention that jerk in Kalamazoo who went around randomly killing six people, picking up fares between shootings.

Thing is, fingerprinting, if done by that outfit that Texas contracts with, IdentoGO (what kind of name is that?!), would cost $42 per driver. $42 here, $42 there, pretty soon you’re talking real money. The pesky media, they say I’m worth around $50 or $60 billion, but hey, I can’t afford fingerprinting while I’m trying to get my initial public offering going.

•      Distinctive emblem — I can’t afford that either. Taxis have visible emblems, but they’re oh so old-school. We’re cool and don’t need the hassle. Besides, I’d rather passengers have to hunt around for our drivers. Although I will say Lyft’s pink mustache was almost cute.

•      Blocking a travel lane — What’s the problem with loading and unloading passengers in a travel lane? It’s not as if this town is congested or anything. If they knew it was Uber, I’m sure they wouldn’t mind the delay.

Thank you for letting me talk through all this ridiculous falderal. Clearly, the city is harassing us. If you like the ordinance I wrote prohibiting those annoying requirements, then vote for Prop 1 — my ordinance. If you want to get all nanny-state about it and stick with the city’s ordinance, then vote against Prop 1, my ordinance. But if you do, I’m warning you, I may gather my marbles and go home. Or not. I’ve made a pretty penny here.

 

Toni Inglis, MSN, RN, CNS, FAAN, is a lifelong Austin resident and retired editor and neonatal intensive care nurse. She writes a monthly opinion column for the Austin American-Statesman editorial page.