Austin isn’t the only city with an Uber debate

In this photo taken Feb. 25, 2016, an Uber decal is displayed in the their window of the car owned by Steve Linnes, a music teacher in State College, Pa., who is also a part-time Uber driver. Gov. Tom Wolf and Pittsburgh-area officials said Tuesday, May 3, 2016, they want Pennsylvania regulators to greatly reduce their record-setting $11.4 million fine against ride-sharing company Uber. The Public Utility Commission fined Uber last month for operating six months in 2014 without the required approval. (Nabil K. Mark/Centre Daily Times via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT; MAGS OUT
(Nabil K. Mark/Centre Daily Times via AP)

The Editorial Board weighed in against the May 7 ballot that calls for the repeal of existing regulations of Transporation Network Companies like Uber and Lyft. We also hosted a good number of op-eds both in favor and against the ordinance.

Those weren’t the only  voices who had something to say. Here are a few others:

“Uber and Lyft want a playing field heavily tilted to their advantage, so they can eliminate the local competition and monopolize the ride-hailing market – after which they will resume squeezing drivers and riders as they have persistently done elsewhere.”  — Austin Chronicle editorial board: Endorsement against Prop. 1: 

“With Proposition 1, Uber and Lyft have tried to turn a regulatory debate into an argument over ride-hailing itself, knowing that these services are both popular and necessary in Austin. If voters accept that frame, they are being played as unsophisticated. Proposition 1 is Uber and Lyft’s effort to fight back against regulation by undermining local government.” —Kriston Capps, City Lab: From the Atlantic: Austin’s Uber War is dumb

“I voted in favor of Proposition 1 yesterday with no hesitation for the simple reason that if Austin City Council wanted to cast itself as a responsible steward of the ride-hailing market, it shouldn’t have completely failed to do so for decades.” —Erica Grieder, Texas Monthly: A vote for Prop. 1

“Politics in the time of social media and atrophied attention spans depends on narratives, and opponents of Proposition 1 are peddling a doozy, with the able assistance of the Austin American-Statesman editorial board.”– Mark Lisheron, Watchdog.org: An Uber narrative runs amok

Other Texas cities may not have an election but are grappling with an Uber debate:

In Houston, where Uber has made threats to leave if Houston won’t change existing regulation:

“Don’t let them take you on a ride, (Houston) Mayor Turner. Don’t give in to their threats. In the world of political carrots and sticks, Uber deserves a good bop on the nose for its tone-deaf and entitled attitude towards our city.” — Houston Chronicle editorial board: Another Uber threat

In Dallas, where Uber plans to expand in an underserved part of the city:

“The new collaboration between Uber and the city should allow more southern Dallas residents to take advantage of a handy option to get around. And putting money in the pockets of more Uber “driver-partners,” who can basically become their own bosses, is nothing but good news all around. That’s especially important in some areas of southern Dallas where people struggle to make ends meet.” — Dallas Morning News editorial board: Expanding Uber makes sense

Opinions on Uber  (and fellow ride-hailing company Lyft) are just about everywhere. In fact, elsewhere across the country, and the world for that matter, cities are at different stages of dealing with the presence of Uber. For example:

In Miami, where Uber has illegally forced its way into the market:

“These ride-hailing services not only should be made legal in Miami-Dade, county officials should consider them a vital component in expanding the transportation options beyond what satisfied customers already have taken advantage of.” — Miami Herald editorial board

In New Jersey, where regulating Uber is still a challenge:

“Regulate Uber, yes — but uniformly. Not by treating it like local taxis.” — Miami Herald Editorial Board wrote:

In Toronto, where the focus is still on creating a level playing field for taxis:

“Some additional tinkering may be required, but on the whole the new rules before council represent the best way forward. The question now is whether politicians will have the fortitude to serve the interests of consumers or bow to the taxi industry.” — Toronto Star editorial board

Identity politics unlikely to work with young Austinites

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Mayor Steve Adler, center, flanked by Council members, from left, Greg Casar, Leslie Pool, Ora Houston, Pio Renteria, Kathie Tovo, Sheri Gallo and Delia Garza, announce their support for fellow council member Ann Kitchen, who has received criticism for her stance on fingerprint requirements for ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

So, Austin will have its ballot showdown between the City Council and the ride-hailing services Uber and Lyft in May. The exasperation coming from the dais is clear, however council members — especially Mayor Steve Adler and embattled Council Member Ann Kitchen — should take a page from the national political landscape.

However well-intentioned one’s policies may be, this next generation of voters are not likely to accept the notion that they should just trust that their elders know what is best for them. Delivery and transparency are everything these days, especially with millennials and members of Generation X. If you talk down to them, be prepared for them to tune you out, or worse — turn on you.

Exhibit No.1: Hillary Clinton vs. Bernie Sanders. Last year it was clear that Clinton assumed that the youthful energy amassed from President Obama’s campaign would automatically transfer to her. But the “youngsters” who propelled Obama to office aren’t so young anymore. They are in their mid-30s; they are parents and homeowners.

They have more skin in the game now, but they are still less likely to behave politically like baby boomers. You could sense Clinton struggling to speak to that demographic after her defeat in New Hampshire and as she campaigned in Nevada and South Carolina. Her quandary is how to use the familiar, time-tested tools of identity politics to rally traditional, older voters, while not irritating younger, newer voters. Her performance last weekend was strong, but only time will tell whether she can convince those under-45 to turn out for her and vote.

The turnout question is an important one. In the past four election cycles, millennials have proven to be fickle when it comes to casting ballots. So do millennials matter politically? Absolutely, voting age millennials outnumber baby boomers already. Even if they don’t show up at the polls at the same rate, their sheer numbers have the ability to swing elections, especially those that are issue-based, not personality- or party-based.

Which brings me back to Austin and the ride-hailing election slated for May.

The divide is generational in a way that is much broader than whether one is comfortable ordering a ride over the internet. While I support Kitchen and Delia Garza in insisting that the city should be responsible for public safety, their message is essentially patriarchal (or matriarchal in this case). You elected us; therefore you should trust us.

My unsolicited suggestion to the yet-to-be-formed PAC: Make this election less about council power being usurped (still true), and more about the right of every passenger to feel confident that they are reasonably safe in the rides they hail, whether it is 2 a.m. or 4 p.m. whether they are drunk or sober. In an era where millions are victimized by identity theft each year, it is vanity for Uber and Lyft to consider themselves immune and counter-intuitive for riders to give up the assurance that their driver is in fact who he or she claims to be.

As the board has said in the past, this push for an election is not driven by the ride-hailing companies’ deep passion for this community or for the contractors who drive for them, it’s being driven by their corporate bottom line. And while capitalism and public good is not mutually exclusive, it does put the onus on the ride-hailing companies to truly earn public trust rather than steamroll the process.

The city will get further with a dialog that respects the concerns of the service’s users than treating those who question their judgment like wayward teenagers.

 

 

 

 

 

Ann Kitchen recall petition bodes ill for Austin

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Welcome to “Groundhog Day,” Austin.

If the petition being circulated to oust Council Member Ann Kitchen has the required 4,811 signatures, Austin politics will likely become its own version of the cult classic movie. You know, where the character by Bill Murray lives the same day over and over again trying to get a different outcome.

Although exhausting, all turns out well for Murray. He, eventually, gets the girl and comes out on the other side a better person. For Austin, policy by petition and political harassment has ominous implications.

Of course, the power to recall elected representatives is an important tool as part of the checks and balances on local government. It prevents elected officials from being allowed to run amok until their term expires. However, it is a power best reserved for correcting incompetence, neglect of duties, corruption, misconduct — allowing the work of the city to continue rather than being derailed by poor or improper governance.

There are costs of course — financial and political — which is why it should only be pursued in extreme cases. The city moved its municipal election day to November in part to reduce expense and encourage greater voter participation. If the petition is submitted and certified before Feb. 19, an election will likely be called for May,

However valuable a recall election might be, it is the wrong tool for settling disagreements on policies. Although its unclear what group is behind the recall effort, it stands to reason that the petition is connected to Kitchen’s position on transportion networking companies such as Uber and Lyft.

From Statesman transportation columnist Ben Wear:

The petition, at the top, offers these grounds for sacking Kitchen, who, if not recalled, would face reelection in November 2018: “The reason for her recall is because she has purposefully hurt businesses that employ citizens of Austin.”

Pretty general. I’m guessing every council that has ever come along, in Austin or any other American city of any size, has passed ordinances that “hurt” businesses by imposing some sort of limitations on them for environmental, safety, road access, zoning or other reasons. Building codes harm businesses in this manner, as do parking requirements. Heck, any city fee on a business hurts it, and they are always done purposefully. Or should that be “purposely?” Maybe both.

Austin has always functioned best when stakeholders work together to reach consensus. This take no prisoners approach to government is much more akin to the state of affairs in Washington, D.C., where it seems to make perfect sense to vote more than 50 times to undo legislation to no effect. The method proposed by Austin4All, the nebulous group behind the Kitchen petition, is even worse, preferring to remove leaders they don’t like until they wear down the elected representative or get someone they like.

Austin has no shortage of contentious issues: environmental protection, affordable housing, development code rewrites, public safety, transportation. Resorting to a petition is a terrible way to write policy and an even worse way to choose leadership.

If it comes to a vote, hopefully Kitchen’s constituents in District 5 will take a stand and not allow her to be run out on a rail. I may not always agree with Kitchen, but I see no reason why she shouldn’t be allowed to serve her term. There are plenty of ways to build consensus for change; a recall petition is not one of them.