As usual, you never have to look very far to find somebody in the media, the government or both, attacking ride-sharing and the gig economy in general. The two biggest targets of their ire are Uber and Lyft, of course, since they’ve done the most damage to the old-school business model of cab companies, their unions and the politicians to whom they donate quite heavily. But we’ve been learning more lately about precisely where these attacks are actually coming from and how they seem to show up in such a miraculously organized and orchestrated fashion.
First, let’s take a look at one of the latest to arise. This local CBS report from the Windy City asks the worrying question of whether or not traffic congestion is getting worse in their city and if ride-hailing services might be to blame. That’s nothing new. Uber and Lyft are blamed for everything and anything from putting cabbies out of business, closing credit unions, driving vehicles so unsafe they’re virtual death traps and hiring unvetted drivers who are only in the car so they can drive you to a desolate location to rob you, rape you or both. So now they’ll blame traffic jams on Uber. Hey… why not, right?
Many believe downtown traffic is worse than ever. Are companies such as Uber and Lyft worsening the problem?
Both have become a way of life in Chicago. But, to what extent is rideshare impacting the traffic on Chicago’s streets? …
For a lot of people, traffic not only seems worse, but also more hectic. So, is ridesharing to blame?
Before we get to the conspiracy angle, allow me to just say that of all the attacks I’ve seen on Uber and Lyft, this is one of the more wild-eyed examples. Stop and think about it. If a new cab company opened up, purchased a thousand new cars, painted them up and put them on the road, you’d have a thousand new cars hanging around downtown, clustering near common pick-up areas and just cruising. That would increase traffic. But Uber drivers use their own vehicles which were already on the road before they started driving for the company. And they don’t wait around by hotels or train stations. They pick a central location and park, waiting for the app to offer them a rider. They don’t do street pickups. Simply cruising around would waste gas and cut into their bottom line.
Now, as to how these attacks roll out, allow me to take you back to another story about attacks on the gig economy, this one going after airbnb. The Mayor of Boston rolled out a push for new legislation which sounded eerily familiar to similar recent speeches in other cities, all pushing for the same restrictions on short-term rentals. A bit of good investigative work revealed an internal memo from the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA), the lobbyist group who works for hotel chains and donates heavily to politicians at the state and municipal level. In it, they spelled out clearly their goals to roll out a coordinated plan to to “build a national narrative” and press the matter in a number of target cities. Soon municipal leaders in all those cities were giving the same speech and pushing the same legislation.
How does this apply to Uber and Lyft? Remember that article I linked above from the local press in Chicago? We rarely heard any of these “traffic congestion” complaints before except for some occasional griping, but look what other items popped up, all in the space of a couple of weeks. Recall that the date on the Chicago article was 2/28.
Chicago 2/28 – Are Rideshares Increasing Traffic Congestion?
Denver 2/25 – Studies suggest Uber, Lyft cause traffic congestion
Boston 2/25 – Uber, Lyft drivers are making city traffic worse
Seattle 2/12 – Do Uber, Lyft worsen Seattle’s traffic congestion?
Manhatan 2/26 – Your Uber Car Creates Congestion. Should You Pay a Fee to Ride?
Washington, DC 2/28 – Ride sharing services such as Uber are causing causes of traffic congestion
Coincidence? Oh, yes… I’m sure that must be it. But since a major hotel industry lobbyist has already been caught with their hand in the cookie jar when it comes to coordinated attacks on short-term rental apps like Airbnb, who might be behind this? We’d need somebody to leak some internal documents the way it happened with the AHLA, but if someone wanted to do some digging I’d wager the National Taxi Worker Alliance and state level lobbyist groups like the Virginia Taxicab Association would be good places to start.
Of course the other possibility is that this is all just one big coincidence. Yep… that must be it for sure.