The deceptive ‘Who’s driving you?’ campaign against Uber, Sidecar & Lyft
In the midst of election season, it’s commonplace to see negative campaign ads everywhere. The “Who’s Driving You?” videos on YouTube and social media are no different, except for the source and the target. Instead of coming from a politician, “Who’s driving you?” is meant to scare the public away from using ride-sharing services like Uber, Sidecar and Lyft.
A project of the national umbrella organization of more than 1,000 taxi and limousine companies — the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association — “Who’s Driving You?” videos and tweets aim to look like some kind of myth-busting, rigorously researched, fact-checking effort about the “dangers” of using your smartphone to arrange a ride and paying for the service via credit card.
The problem, according to TLPA, is that Uber is lying when it portrays itself as a technology company, that ride-sharing drivers don’t have proper insurance and don’t undergo the same background checks as traditional taxi and limousine drivers. “Ride-sharing companies,” says the TLPA, are using “amateur drivers” who are “not adequately covered by insurance” or fingerprinted by the FBI or local law enforcement.
Sounds pretty bad, especially accompanied by ominous headlines about how unsafe and treacherous it may be to hire an Uber or Lyft driver.
Some of the problems with these ride-sharing services actually plague traditional transportation companies, though. Dave Sutton, spokesman for the anti-Uber campaign, admitted in a phone interview that there isn’t a universal national standard for background checks for traditional taxi drivers and traditional taxi companies might have drivers with records that include DUIs or other run-ins with the law.
Whatever dangers apply to trusting Uber drivers with your life are the same as trusting taxi drivers. Indeed, this whole effort has nothing to do with safety; it’s about competition eating into local monopolies.
When I asked Sutton about the traditional taxi companies’ fear of competition from Uber, he argued that it was unfair conditions that bother the TLPA. “Competition involves having a set of rules and may the best competitor win,” Sutton explained. And he’s correct that the rules should be for every player. But when referring to the “rules,” what we mean are the regulations and the regulators who govern the industry. And those regulations, which differ in every location, and those regulators, made up largely of whoever was part of the industry when the rules were devised, haven’t changed for decades.
What both the taxi companies and Uber should realize is that changing outdated rules would be the best answer for the companies and for consumers. But when I suggested as much to Sutton, he balked. Why not lower the regulatory burden so it is cheaper and more efficient, so everyone can compete fairly? “That’s not something that we’ve spoken to,” he replied.
Abby W. Schachter, a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum, lives in Regent Square and blogs about the intersection of government policy and parenting at captainmommy.com.