Monday, September 16, 2013

Dallas, Uber, and Yellow Cab

Top city officials in Dallas, including lawyers and the police, worked in concert with representatives of Yellow Cab before a crackdown on Uber, the smartphone car service that the cab company sees as a threat.

Interim City Manager A.C. Gonzalez coordinated the effort, and the mayor’s office now is scrutinizing his actions, according to interviews and records obtained by The Dallas Morning News.

The Yellow Cab operating in Dallas does not appear to have any corporate connection to the one operating in Houston and other Texas cities, as I detailed here.

The anti-Uber campaign included a widespread sting this summer in which police and city transportation officials wrote citations against drivers under contract with Uber. Meanwhile, an attorney for Yellow Cab — a longtime political and financial benefactor to council members — helped draft a proposed ordinance that could make it harder for Uber to operate in Dallas.

The Yellow Cab vs. Uber fight, which boiled over publicly in the past few weeks, offers a behind-the-scenes look at a conflict between old politics and new technology.

At stake: Did City Hall use its muscle to aid an entrenched business, or was it challenging a new company it suspected was skirting long-established safety regulations?

This development has reinforced Uber's primary argument.

Leandre Johns, Uber’s general manager in Dallas, said he’s not surprised that cab companies are attacking Uber.

“The only parties who stand to benefit from a lack of innovation and competition in Dallas transportation options have been the ones leading the charge” to limit consumer choices, he said.

Dallas city officials seem to have an expanding ethical dilemma on their hands, and it's one that feeds the "poor-picked-on-us" Uber meme.  That's a seriously bad development for Big D, but unless evidence of something similar surfaces here in H-Town, it has to be considered their problem.

But it does help explain the various lobbyists and lawyers throwing themselves into the mosh pit in every city Uber starts their business. Disruption as a marketing plan is working out pretty well for them.

Update: Via Charles, yet more chaos.

Update II: Still more bad news coming out of customers' experience with Uber, this time in the nation's capital.

Uber, seemingly in permanent murky water in D.C., has a funny way of playing damage control.
Last Saturday night, Bridget Todd, an activist and former lecturer at Howard University tweeted at the company that her Uber driver choked her after she kissed her husband in the back of the vehicle because he didn't approve of her interracial relationship, according to Valleywag.

In response, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick emailed the company's PR team (and apparently included a Valleywag reporter on the e-mail list) warning them to "make sure these writers don't come away thinking we are responsible when these things do go bad…for whatever reason these writers are starting to think we are somewhat liable for these incidents that aren't even real in the first place."

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