Despite union objections, White House says Uber is okay for federal workers

This is going to cause some uncomfortable moments for Democrats around the country. The White House has issued a directive saying that federal workers on business travel may use Uber and Lyft for their transportation needs and the taxpayers can cover the cost. As Government Executive reports, many individual agencies were already doing it anyway, but now the policy is official across the board.

The Obama administration issued guidance on Wednesday clarifying federal agencies should reimburse employees who use ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft for any travel on official business, effective immediately.

The General Services Administration issued a bulletin on the Federal Travel Regulation, cementing a policy many — but not all — agencies had already installed. While each agency manages the final authorization of travel expenses based on internal policy, GSA said federal employees can use mobile ride-hailing applications — referred to in government parlance as Transportation Network Companies — “when it is advantageous to the government.”

GSA wrote in a fact sheet accompanying the bulletin: “The simple answer is that yes, as a federal employee traveling on official business, you can be reimbursed for rideshares in accordance with your agency procedures and local laws.”

The reasons why this wasn’t done sooner are purely political, but it appears that the White House has finally been forced to bend to the winds of reality. They’re supposed to be saving money wherever possible and being stingy with those taxpayer dollars, and ridesharing is frequently a direct means to that end. For a local example down here at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, I asked the front desk at my hotel to call me a cab on Sunday night so I could get into the city for a meeting. When he arrived, the cabbie informed me that they were going to flat rate fares because the traffic in the city was so congested near the convention center and a lot of streets were closed off. He charged me $28.50 for the trip. Since then I’ve gone back to using Uber for all my trips back and forth. The average fare? Less than $15.00. If you multiply those types of savings out across all of the federal workers who are traveling around the country on any given day, pretty soon you’re talking about real money. (And the quality of the service is light years ahead of any cab company, so frankly I’d be willing to pay a little more for an Uber ride if it came down to it.)

But how will this decision play in places like Houston, where Democrats and the taxi unions have forced through laws and referendum votes making it virtually impossible for Uber and Lyft to operate? They make all sorts of claims about how terrible Uber is, that it’s unfair to workers and that Uber’s drivers aren’t screened properly and may wind up robbing or murdering you. And let’s be clear… it’s the unions who are driving this, and they are the largest Super PACs that the Democrats have. Will Uber be able to point to the decision of the Obama administration and make the problems go away?

That’s unlikely, since it would require the local Democratic officials to be capable of feeling shame or acknowledging facts. But at least at the federal level we can now begin saving some money by taking advantage of this new technology. With that in mind, I can offer a rare tip of my hat to the Obama administration this morning for making the right call.