I spent a few years working in Washington, D.C. in an office one block from the infamous “K” Street, home to the world’s largest flock of A-list lobbyists and advocacy groups on the planet. It’s fairly easy to eye a professional lobbyist on the street, in a restaurant, or in a hotel lounge because the species is plentiful and easy to spot without a field guide, such as birdwatchers use in the wild to ID certain flying critters.
Without stereotyping too much, a lobbyist is commonly a middle-age male, in a well-tailored blue suit, crisp monogramed shirt (they like French cuffs for some reason), conservative stripped tie (always with a dash of red—the DC power color–although in reality it should be green, and standing reservations at one of the clubby steak houses to wine and dine those to whom he intends to woo to his client’s side of an issue or legislation.
Seriously, I share my thoughts about lobbyists because Uber has hired a small army of lobbyists, lawyers and PR firms to take its fight directly to state legislatures throughout the country. The gloves are off. Uber is spending a ton of money (Uber is valued at $3.4 billion) to influence those politicians who can change, tweak or propose legislation that allows its service to plant a flag wherever it chooses. Of course, taxi, black car and limousine companies are going toe-to-toe with Uber with their own lobbyists to not so much put Uber out of business, which is futile in my opinion, but to make sure the company abides by the same rules and regulations that all other private ground transportation companies must comply with.
On our LCT LinkedIn page, there is an active discussion going on by operators throughout the country about Uber and its lobbying initiatives. For example, Chuck Cotton, owner of Oklahoma-based VIP Limousine, wrote that Uber has hired six “powerful” lobbyists who “boilerplated” a ridesharing bill that 11 state senators signed to move out of a committee and will be voted on by the Senate. Johnny Green, president/CEO, ETS International, wrote “They (Uber) have done the same thing here in Boston. They were shut down only to lobby to have the governor reverse the decision. I just want them to do business on a leveling field.” Barry Beal, president, First Class Executive Global, Phoenix, said, “Same crap as in Arizona (AZ HB2273). They shoved this through committee the other day and now will go to the full House of Representatives. We are fighting the bill here but you can just tell Uber has gotten into pockets of some of these representatives.”
In the April issue of LCT magazine I wrote an article about the Florida Limousine Association (FLA) and Minnesota Chauffeured Transportation Association (MCTA) hiring their own lobbyists to fight Uber in their respective state legislatures, as well as other associations around the country that are doing what they can to ensure that Uber, Lyft and other mobile app companies play by the rules. That seems to be the unified message I’m hearing across the country—especially the touch points regarding safety compliance and liability insurance regulations that these mobile app companies and drivers have skirted as they continue to plant new flags in city after city.
Make sure your keep the conversation going on LCT’s LinkedIn page and I’ll keep you updated on this critical issue on my blog postings.
—By Tom Halligan, East Coast Editor
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