Sunday, December 14, 2014

Uber Builds an Empire of Users and Lobbyists

As Uber, an app that connects people with nearby drivers for carpooling, gains popularity, the company also sees a rise in legislative attempts to regulate it and ensure rider safety. States have tried to introduce rules regarding the drivers and even halt its operation in the respective state (Washington Post). Such measures are usually backed by taxi and insurance corporations, but now, Uber quickly contacts its user base to counter regulatory bills. The company provides its users with convenient methods, allowing them to easily sign online petitions and display their protests to government officials. Additionally, Uber's professional lobbyists turn their influence on legislators whom they think can be persuaded to vote against the measures. In cases such as those involving the Virginia DMV and Illinois' bill, Uber has effectively used both its users and lobbyists to fight regulations, and usually, win.

The company's growing influence can be used a tool for the two major political parties. Currently, Democrats are generally supporting Uber. However, Republicans could also "'make a comeback' in Democratic cities" to target Uber's left-leaning audience (Washington Post). This tactic would call to the grassroots network supporting Uber and possibly attract the younger audience to the Republican Party.

Without the company's large network of users, I believe it would be more difficult for it to combat legislative regulatory efforts. Any corporation can hire lobbyists, but especially compared to other ride-sharing app rivals, Uber's fast and effective mobilization of its users allows the company to ask for and receive instant support--as in one case, people have answered so quickly that the rate peaked at "seven electronic signatures per second" (Washington Post). Uber is able to quickly show that its position is "representative" of the people and assure that they are working with them, instead of just sending lobbyists straight to lawmakers.

Questions:
Would Republican support for Uber bring voters to the party?
As technology becomes more prominent in our daily lives, will more companies be able to successfully employ the double tactic that Uber uses?
Do you think Uber, or similar companies, should be regulated, and how?

8 comments:

Christian Carlson said...

It's honestly hard to say if Republican support could hypothetically bring the "Uber vote." Given that its audience is already established as being left-leaning, I highly doubt that something that ends up being no more than a sort of endorsement could persuade people to vote for the other party. If anything, such an action would truly be only beneficial for Uber, as they could get more right-leaning customers coming out. I feel as if Uber's method of getting its users to support them politically is quite sketchy. It's almost as if they have Stockholm Syndrome and are hopelessly enraptured with Uber, doing things that are ultimately counterintuitive to their interests as citizens (safety is good?). More companies may be able to employ this tactic, but that could end up being a complete fiasco. Of course Uber and other similar companies should be regulated. Having its own slew of problems, I see no reason not to make sure what it offers is truly safe and beneficial to society.

Netta Wang 7 said...

I do believe that, continuing its current growth, Uber will eventually dominate the "taxi" business because of the nature of competition. The taxi market is already extremely unfair, because large taxi companies have local and state governments on their side to keep competition at bay. For example, drivers must acquire expensive licenses, get special training, and have vehicles registered and paperwork filed. The large companies have systems and connections to make this process go smoothly within their own practice, but can also make it nearly impossible for new taxi services.These regulations actually benefit the large taxi companies much more than it benefits the public, since the lack of competition means that these companies do not need to strive to have great service. When seen from this angle, Uber is just trying to even out a field that has been very skewed for a long time. Although Uber's methods of going about this may not be the best, (not just getting users to sign onto petitions, but other practices like attacking Lyft and critics unethically) ultimately I think the business practice and idea behind Uber is fair game.

Wesley Lee said...

Supporting Uber will most likely not sway the vote in any significant way. Left-leaning audiences often base their political affiliation on much larger issues like abortion or healthcare. In regards of the increased use of technology by companies like, it only seems inevitable that we move towards more efficient and convenient means of doing things. The taxi industry has been largely stagnant in terms of technological innovation. Uber simply saw an opportunity and took it. Competition forces taxi companies to innovate and improve or face losing out to Uber. That's simply the nature of things. Beyond standard safety measures that are applied to taxis today, I don't believe Uber should face much more regulation. You are paying for a service similar to the way you would purchase a product online.

Catherine van Blommestein said...

I believe in fair competition in the market place. The problem with Uber is that it has taken away regulations and laws and made the competition unfair. Taxi drivers are required to have licenses and expensive insurance. The taxi companies also need to obey certain labor laws. Uber does not follow these rules, so of course it is cheaper. If Uber wants to act as a taxi company then it should be liable like a taxi company. People need to understand the risk that an uninsured driver might drive them. I have heard of many accidents, in which the insurance company refuses to pay out claims on the basis that the vehicle was not insured for commercial use. I do not think the Republican Party will benefit from supporting Uber to draw in younger voters. This is not a big enough issue for young voters to change their minds.

Alex Medwid said...

I don't think that the Republicans could gain a significant number of voters by supporting Uber. It may be an extremely profitable company with a lot of users, but ultimately the people don't care about this one transport service the way they might about taxes, immigration, or other major policy decisions.

I think that Uber is likely a rare exception in its ability to use its users to fight in this way. Few services can grow so large while being so controversial.

Uber and all similar companies should definitely be regulated. There is a reason why cities charge money to taxi companies for the right to operate city taxes.

Uber is controversial for a reason: The Uber drivers have personal insurance policies rather than the sort necessary for for-profit operations such as taxi driving.

Cities charge money for taxi driving licenses for a reason: it costs money to ensure that the program is safe for passengers, and Uber's rating system does not match the level of protection given by city governments.

Additionally, Uber has engaged in various unethical practices including threatening journalists and using techniques to prevent competing drivers from being to pick up passengers (by repeatedly requesting and cancelling rides). Although Uber may offer equal service at lower prices, it is not a company I support.

Brian Yee said...

I definitely think that safety should be the priority. The fact that Uber doesn't follow certain regulations and laws kind of jeopardizes the safety of its customers. In addition, one cannot deny the fact that it's really a taxi company and if it wants to act like one, it should follow the same set of rules as any other taxi company. One of the regulations that is probably the most controversial surrounding Uber and other companies like it are background checks. While Uber's website praises its leading standards and background checks as "more rigorous" than other companies, it has faced a lot of scrutiny in the past year. Uber has even fought against legislation that required stronger background checks in statehouses around the country. And in California, Uber and other companies like it helped kill a law that would have required drivers to undergo a background check by the state’s Justice Department, as is required of taxi drivers. Uber has faced a lot of scrutiny for accidents including deaths and convictions of reckless driving. I don't believe Republican support for Uber would bring voters to the party because simply this is one issue/matter. This service isn't as controversial as topics as immigration or healthcare. Uber has already established itself as having a more left leaning audience and simply endorsing a service wouldn't particularly benefit the Republican party too much.

Douglas Kirsher said...

I don’t think that most people will be swayed politically just because a party supports Uber. Input from consumers can be very powerful and certainly Uber has exploited that while at the same time taking the more traditional approach of paid lobbyists. While consumer input especially through social media can cause change but that change is not always in the best interest of the consumer. Uber has come under criticism because of the actions of some of the drivers. Regulations that are in place for the taxi industry are meant to protect consumers. Simply allowing Uber freedom to operate because it is technology based does nothing to protect the consumer. So yes it is time to regulate companies like Uber. But that will also make Uber customers unhappy because they see the internet as something that should not be regulated and if you put in place regulations on services provided through the internet, it could be seen as a way of regulating the internet itself. I don’t agree and see that consumer rights should be protected and regulation can be a good thing.

anish amirapu said...

I do not believe that the Republicans or any party for that matter could really sway people into voting towards their respective party. I feel like it would have the same effect as using any social medium like Facebook or Twitter. As it stands Uber's reputation is falling so within a couple of years it could become obsolete and there would be no point in using it for support in political parties. Uber is able to function properly and be more convenient because there is less regulation on companies like it. So trying to regulate it would make into a full blown business and thus loses its value as a cheap alternative to other modes of transportation. So regulating it would have to be a demand from the people using it or it can be seen as invasive.