Are the only rules the Uber economy follows the ones they write For themselves?
If you want to start a business in a city, one of the basic things you might do is check the legal regulations for the type of business you’re running.
But if you have tens of billions of dollars behind you, maybe your urge to comply with local laws isn't all that strong? Or at least that's what it seems like, given that a bunch of cities have accused Uber and other giant app-based ride companies of coming into their town and operating illegally. They've received cease & desist letters from authorities in Boston, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, the state of Virginia, and more. In Portland, Oregon, they began operating illegally despite city regulations, and the city sued them. (After a protracted battle, Uber won the right to operate.)
In Seattle, when these companies first showed up a few years ago, they operated outside City regulations governing professional for-hire drivers. This prompted the Seattle Times to describe the operation as illegal. When the city council decided to legalize and regulate them so they could operate safely in the city and successfully passed a city ordinance to do so, Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar disagreed with some of the regulations. So they simply poured more than $1.2 million into a fight to repeal the ordinance completely and rework the rules in their favor.
Uber has more than 150 lobbyists in at least 50 U.S. cities and states (including here in Washington State and Seattle). Lobbying is perfectly legal, but it’s certainly in the public interest to know how much say companies have in writing their own regulations and legislation. We pass safety and labor laws to protect people, and every company needs to follow them.
With their workers, these companies are just as casual about what the rules are and if they’ll be followed—drivers report that the rules at work change at the companies' whim, from what kind of car they’re expected to drive to how much they’ll be paid for rides.
Transportation companies have a responsibility to operate safely and legally, and riders and drivers have the right to fair regulation of these companies so we all know that they’re playing by the rules. But it seems like the only rules and laws these companies think they should follow are the ones they write themselves.