Uber provides an illustration of the supremacy of various levels of government in the United States. First, let’s start with the bottom of the governmental totem pole.
The taxi companies of yore were local beasts. They functioned as most companies do nowadays, one part business venture, one part lobbyists. They provided the taxi service and made enough money to lobby the local government. Said local government then wrote laws that raised the regulatory threshold for taxi companies so high that they had no real competition. A side effect was that taxis were also quite safe. Sure, it wasn’t the real intent, but it was a little bonus. So that’s local government at the municipal level. A little scummy, but not altogether terrible.
Everybody knows that in the US, municipal governments are basically always run by liberals. I don’t really know why, but that seems to be how it works. That frequently puts the cities at odds with the state governments in conservative states (like Kansas or Texas).
The way it seems to go is the cities regulate Uber for safety and also because taxis are a racket. Uber is fanatical about running their own background checks, which is why Uber just decided to pull out of Austin. They just CAN’T allow their drivers to be cross-referenced to via fingerprints to prove their identity. It was the biggest city that didn’t give up and decide it was easier to grovel at the feet of almighty Uber. For instance, in Kansas City, Uber freaked out and the city backed down. And that’s just one example of many.
Interestingly, the very conservative state of Kansas was on track to do some regulating. Of course, when Kansas tried to make their own Kansas Bureau of Investigations run the background checks, Uber freaked out and got very cozy with Gov Brownback (one of my favorite people to hate). Needless to say, in a state as conservative as Kansas, the idea of regulation didn’t go far and Brownback got the regulations nixed.
All over the US, cities are trying to regulate Uber. Of course, given that the states are higher on the government supremacy totem pole, it’s no surprise that conservative states are squashing down municipal regulations.
So here’s something unrelated. Much like taxi companies rely on municipal government for protection, car dealerships rely on state government to run their racket. I don’t understand why conservatives feel differently about dealerships?
Anyway, I guess I should mention the last tier of government.
The federal government, the highest tier on that supremacy totem pole, isn’t going to be regulating Uber any time soon. Not only is congress eating itself and failing to pass any substantial legislation (but hey, how about those buffalo…amirite?), but it’s a bunch of regulation-hating Republicans anyway, so there’s no way they’re going to do anything.
HOWEVER, for a “fun” game, let’s say they did. Let’s say they passed a law saying all Uber drivers had to be fingerprinted. It would roughly be the same as the state legislatures overruling the municipal governments, right? But it would be trampling on states rights!
States rights: mystical and sacrosanct.
Municipal rights: nonexistent.
To end this discussion, I want to mention a few things. I actually think the idea of Uber is excellent. I also think local taxi companies don’t deserve to stick around. It’s an outdated model that provides stupidly slow service. Unfortunately, Uber is full of scumbags who refuse to provide health insurance and keep cutting rates (which hurts the drivers). That alone is enough to give me pause, but their relationship with anti-regulation Republicans is enough to seal the deal for me.
We could have better taxi service that’s good for the drivers. We really could. But as far as I can tell, we’re not even close to moving in that direction.