Ride share bad boy Uber is flipping the country's taxi services upside down, proving that when you combine the ambush tactics of the Tea Party right and the pitiless analysis of Silicon Valley's left, there's very few local and state legislatures and regulators you can't curbstomp.
On a Thursday in June, bureaucrats from Virginia’s Department of Motor Vehicles made their move against Uber Technologies. The fast-growing ride-for-hire company was told that its popular service was, in fact, illegal and that the firm needed to immediately cease all operations in the state.
Far from being intimidated, Uber was ready to fight back. The company immediately called on one of its most potent weapons: its ever-growing list of smartphone-wielding customers. A notice sent to Uber users in Virginia included the e-mail address and phone number of the ordinarily low-profile official in charge of the decision. The notice instructed the company’s supporters to demand that the DMV “stand up for you.”
Hundreds of them did and, by Sunday, Commissioner Richard Holcomb’s inbox was flooded. Holcomb did his best to respond — working through the weekend, even crafting e-mails to irate Uber customers as he lay in bed at home.
The poor guy never had a chance.
Then, seeking a longer-term fix, Uber lobbyists submitted a draft of a proposed temporary operating permit. State officials granted a revised version several weeks later, permitting Uber as well as Lyft, a smaller company, to continue normal operations for the time being.
In an era of government dysfunction, the Virginia example shows how San Francisco-based Uber has pioneered not just a new sort of taxi service but also a new way to change long-standing local ordinances.
Uber’s approach is brash and, so far, highly effective: It launches in local markets regardless of existing laws or regulations. It aims to build a large customer base as quickly as possible. When challenged, Uber rallies its users to pressure government officials, while unleashing its well-connected lobbyists to influence lawmakers.
Why bother with lobbyist organizations like ALEC when you can cut out the middleman, aggressively leverage the internet and your own customers, and crush any and all regulatory opposition? Just roll through and take over before anyone can react. Yes, the article does point out that Uber has screwed up so far on more than a few occasions, and maybe people are starting to wise up to what's going on.
But until that happens, it's the Wild West, and Uber is winning.