When New York Mayor Bill De Blasio talked of a Tale of Two Cities on the campaign trail, promising to address an epidemic of social inequality, he probably wasn’t expecting a viral app to drive a multibillion-dollar wedge through Gotham’s fault-lines of race and class.
But now De Blasio and city lawmakers have been blindsided by Uber’s corporate surge, forced to stall an attempt to cap the company’s expansion. The City Council has reportedly shelved for at least four months a proposal to limit Uber’s rate of growth (that is, slowing, not stopping, the expansion) for an assessment of its environmental and traffic impacts. Now the smartphone ridesharing app that traditional cabbies deem an “existential threat” will keep pouring thousands more cars and part-time drivers onto the streets, angling for digital ride-hailers.
Supporters of the cap cited congestion concerns, a volatile pricing system that constantly fluctuates according to market demand, and the lack of regulatory controls on Uber’s “independent contractors.” These rideshare drivers are not technically employed by Uber, and are minimally regulated by the city whose transportation system the company is hellbent on “disrupting.” That means Uber gets “freedom” from payroll taxes, vehicle standards and workers’ compensation, while drivers are rewarded with “flexible” hours and “self-employment” (or what labor advocates call precarious schedules and zero corporate liability).
In lieu of the cap, Uber has agreed to disclose previously hidden data on its operations. But such “compromises” won’t dent the opposition of angry cabbies like Bill Ledour, who recently testified before the City Council: