Pro-Uber Editorials Miss The Main Points

Posted on June 24, 2015 by - Also by this author

Two editorials published this week in the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times repeat the same media myths that cloud the issue of how to apply labor laws to transportation network companies. Journal editorial here; Times editorial here

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For starters, both editorials once again use the term “sharing economy” and/or “sharing services.” Except they’re not talking about children eating their lunches on a school playground. The economy behind TNCs such as Uber, and other businesses such as Airbnb, does not display sharing or even bartering. The “sharing economy” involves buying, selling, and contracting for products and services, with payments and money exchanged. That’s called commerce, or doing business, not sharing. Media organizations have a responsibility to apply accurate terminology and look past deceptive promotional terms.

Both editorials make excuses for Uber, claiming it is a different animal that requires its special feeding routines. One particular point in the Times editorial best captures such confused reasoning: "California requires a new approach that would allow people to contract out their services independently through new platforms without enabling companies to magically transform employees into contractors with fewer benefits and no safety net."

Huh? Allow Uber to handle independent contract drivers through a new platform, but not let other companies do the same because, why? Translated into plainspeak, that passage sounds more like: “Labor rules for taxis and limos, but not for TNCs because they’re big, rich and cool.”

Stubborn Facts
For the benefit of editorial writers seduced by Uber and its teenage-boy-libertarian rhetoric, let’s go back and review some basic facts and infused with logic:

  • TNCs, taxicabs and limousine companies are all ground transportation services. They place wheels on the ground that carry paying customers to destinations.
  • All are capable of handling advanced reservations and/or on-demand requests, whether via phone, website, mobile website, app or in the case of cabs, a street hail.
  • All are private, for-profit incorporated legal entities that take in revenues and organize themselves to earn profits.
  • A cabbie, a driver and a chauffeur all do the same thing, vocationally speaking. They drive vehicles to earn a living and contribute to the profits of a “higher” governing private-sector company.

A limousine company, for example, that has a website, a client app, a phone system, GPS/Navigation for vehicles, chauffeurs connected with smartphones, and a 24/7 reservation system is no different technologically than a TNC.   

So, why then should Uber get a special pass on established employee and independent contractor labor standards by enjoying a privileged category because of its “technology platform?” That so-called platform is merely a different method for summoning a ride and matching driver with passenger. It can be replicated by any ground transportation company with the right gadgets and operating structure — or a motorist looking for a hitchhiker with a thumb and $20 for gas.

Solution Staring
The solution here should be obvious. Instead of government regulators placing Uber in a glorified high chair, and editorialists lamenting the assault on a misnomer of a “sharing economy,” TNCs, taxicabs and limousine services should be subject to the same labor options, choices and regulations.

In the spirit of all-American fairness, and safety, we don’t apply one set of FAA and DOL standards to "Big-3" United Airlines, and a different one to "discount" Southwest Airlines. Southwest pilots don’t get to fly any air route they want to get there faster, while United pilots must follow pre-approved FAA route patterns.

Neither should such disparities emerge among TNCs, taxis and chauffeured services. They’re all transportation and technology network companies now. Let them compete, free and fair.

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