WDY blog post

Uber’s Culture, Portland, and the Environment

Don’t doubt it: Uber’s others-exist-to-be-manipulated culture has substantially harmfully impacted public policy.

Exhibit A is Austin, Texas, which passed fingerprint background checks to defend women riders against sexual assault by drivers. Uber and Lyft spent millions on lobbyists to overturn this consumer-safety law.

Other examples abound. But Portland, Oregon is in play and replete with exasperating irony.

Unlike in Texas, Uber and Lyft have so far failed in enticing Oregon lawmakers to pass statewide rules enabling the companies to bypass longstanding local (city) oversight of for-hire cars.

The Portland city council is way past fed up with Uber. Uber recently admitted it used its “Greyball” software tool to thwart Portland regulators. Portland is subpoenaing Uber on Greyball and cooperating with a Justice Dept. probe into the same.

Meanwhile, in the Oregon legislature, Uber and Lyft are making a last-minute push to subvert city oversight by offering to pay  $.50 per ride to help fund an expansion of electric vehicles. Uber has offered to foot this fee in trade for statewide pre-emption on local regulation.

“Uber continues to support the environmental community’s push for stronger investments in sustainable transportation and emissions reduction,” said an Uber spokesperson.

What utter bullshit.

Plain and simple: Uber is offering to pay into an environmental-sounding cause so it can run unlimited cars on city streets. And avoid the irritant of local consumer protections.

Oregon lawmakers seeking to understand the actual impact of Uber and Lyft should look to canary-in-the-coalmine San Francisco.

San Franciscans, including business leaders, complain to the city about awful and worsening traffic congestion, but local officials are powerless to change it. Why? Because Uber and Lyft are regulated at the state level.

Despite San Francisco repeatedly petitioning the state regulator to hold Uber and Lyft responsible for a variety of concerns, local officials can’t get any control over the companies. Now, San Francisco is investigating whether the congestion created by Uber and Lyft constitutes a public nuisance.

Lest you consider San Francisco too extreme a comparison city, Portland is experiencing the second fastest “ridesharing” growth in the country.

At a gut level, the irony of what Uber and Lyft are trying to do in Oregon is appalling. Uber and Lyft are offering VC money to fund electric cars, in order that they may run unlimited emissions-producing cars throughout Oregon cities without local oversight.

And make no mistake whatsoever: Once Uber secures state-level permission to run unlimited cars in Oregon cities, local and environmental activists will be politically and financially overmatched trying to undo this harmful permission.

This is what we’re talking about, when we’re talking about Uber’s culture. Uber’s deception and manipulation is not limited to its HQ; it’s part of everything it does.

When Uber offers to fund Oregon’s efforts to support the environment, lawmakers and policy advocates shouldn’t take the corporation at its word.

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