Wednesday, December 03, 2014

PAST FIGHTS FUTURE AT MONTGOMERY COUNTY COUNCIL HEARING ON UBER, LYFT, TAXIS

One day after Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett and County Council President George Leventhal exhorted the Council to disprove the widespread perception that the county is hostile to business... the Council held a public hearing on a bill hostile to business.

Council Expedited Bill 54-14 would, plain and simple, make it more costly for ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft to operate in Montgomery County. If passed, it would absolutely, positively raise fares for users of Uber and Lyft. And the bill sends a terrible message to the region and the nation that Montgomery County is closed for business.

Beyond punishing ridesharing services, subsidies were on the table for Uber and Lyft's competition, the local cab companies. Specifically, Expedited Bill 55-14 would require the county's Department of Transportation to create a "centralized, electronic taxicab dispatch system" - at taxpayer expense. Likewise, Expedited Bill 53-14 would reduce the cost of operations for Barwood and other cab companies, while 54-14 raises the cost for Uber and Lyft. Sound fair to you?

Considering that's there is no mass public outcry to put more regulations on Uber and Lyft, where is the urgency for ham-handed government intervention coming from? If you haven't already figured it out, Barwood is well-connected politically in the county. Uber and Lyft entered a stagnant transportation market, did well, and now its taxi competitors are crying foul. Using political connections and hiring at least one PR firm, they have attempted to create a fake Astroturf campaign against ridesharing companies. Which Bill 54-14 incorrectly lumps in with taxicabs.

Uber and Lyft are not taxicabs. While they operate legally in the transportation market, and indeed have some advantages over taxicabs, they cannot - for example - troll the streets, hotels and shopping centers of Montgomery County, in hopes of being hailed by a prospective passenger. That's an advantage taxis have over ridesharing.

While some on the Council are hoping to preserve the status quo of the old taxi monopolies their constituents have been complaining about for decades, the rest of the world has shifted beneath them. I attend a fair number of grand openings and events around Bethesda and the county, and I can't recall anyone arriving by taxi for the red carpet. 

Young people, in particular, are arriving by Uber. One topic receiving a lot of press in the last year has been the question of how to attract more millennials to live and work in Montgomery County. The County Council has been one of the prime talkers on this issue. Their record doesn't back up their talk. Affordable housing is being torn down, no major corporation with high-wage jobs has been attracted to the county in over a decade, and the county even managed to run 90% of food trucks out of downtown Bethesda. 

Now Bill 54-14, which would raise Uber fares, and some councilmembers' threats to crack down on increasingly popular e-cigarettes, are raising the volume on a clear message to millennials - Montgomery County is not for you. Imagine millennials' reaction to the County Council making their Uber rides more expensive.

But back to business - If I'm the CEO of a tech start-up, and I know that, once my product disrupts the established powers in the market, the Council will step in and crack down on me - why would I incorporate my business in Montgomery County? And why would I offer my product or service to county residents, if the elected officials will make that product or service more expensive (and therefore less competitive) to please established companies that have a direct line - and checkbook - to the County Council?

This isn't just about Uber and Lyft. Ideally, wouldn't you like to have additional ridesharing services competing for your travel dollar in the county? Upstart competitors won't just be hurt by Bill 54-14, but may be shut out entirely from our market. Uber and Lyft are big enough to simply pass the added costs 54-14 would impose on them onto their customers; start-ups won't have the customer base and financing to do that.

More evidence of the ground shifting beneath the County Council? Major corporations like Citigroup and Gannett have made Uber the official ground transportation option for their employees, instead of taxicabs. If you're the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, and you know Montgomery County will raise the travel costs for your firm, why would you be encouraged to relocate your headquarters there, or do business there?

Not to mention that the crackdown on Uber will suggest to those corporations that Montgomery County's leaders are stuck in the past and fighting the future, hardly the message you want to send to the tech, aerospace, defense and biotech industries.

Uber and Lyft are at least as safe as taxicabs, and offer more accountability and convenience than traditional taxis do. We need more of these services, not less, and certainly not higher fares. If Barwood and other taxi services would like to switch to becoming a ridesharing service, they can do that without public financing and subsidies.

Ridesharing services are also creating jobs and providing transportation to areas of the county underserved by transit.

In emotional testimony last night, Uber driver Elgasim Fadlalla said the company "saved my life." Laid off in a recent round of Pentagon defense cuts, Fadlalla has been able to attend school while driving for Uber. As a former taxi driver, he said that would not have been financially feasible if he were driving a traditional cab. With a taxi company, "I owe them $105 for rent when I wake up in the morning." Not so with Uber.

Another Uber driver, Dario Arana, said he owns 12 restaurants in the DC area, in addition to his driving job. He drives to help people more than just for the money, he said. "Public transportation here in the county is not reliable, and we definitely need ridesharing companies" to augment that system, he testified.

Reliability is also critical for Uber user Bridget Frances, who said, "I've found Uber quicker than Metro, and more reliable than the bus. It's the most convenient thing. I don't know what I did before Uber."

Isn't it time Montgomery County stops fighting the future?

55 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Isn't it time Montgomery County stops fighting the future?"

So in other words don't fight the future unless the future is modernizing the antiquated use of land at Westbard or the Purple Line.

Anonymous said...

Robert, first of all, as Berliner told you directly, these bills are not going to impede business. It was actually funny to watch Berliner hand you your ass in a public forum that you clearly had no idea what the hearing was about .

2nd, If you stayed for the entire hearing you woudl have heard compelling testimony from an Uber driver who was sold a bill of goods who is now stuck with a huge car note each month (BTW Uber is being investigated by the feds for this type of practice) you would have also heard from the members of the accessible community as well as an industry member who brought light to the lack of insurance the TNCs claim they have.

I am not agianst the TNCs at all but if you are going to report on something stick around for the entire hearing, perhaps interview somebody, or just prepare a statemnt to read on the actual bills.

There was no menton of raising the fares for the TNCs nothing in mentioned in any of the bills. The TNCs do a sub par background check, they will say otherwise but won't disclose hwo they do it. They claim to have in suarnce but the insurance they have does not cover the riding public or the others involved in the accidents.

Tom said...

Opinion much? Maybe to help people from hating on your site's lack of separation from news versus opinion, you could have two sections? One where you just report straight unbiased news reporting and another where you state your opinions? Then we could take your "news" more seriously and then engage in constructive discussion on your opinions. Also perhaps a food section too. :)

Anonymous said...

It's a blog! Lighten up. Don't read it if you don't like it.

Jim said...

Bob can use a lightening up too along with his readers. Lol.

Anonymous said...

This is actually a serious issue and Robert did a great job looking at it.

There's zero public support for Barwood (much like the Westbard redevelopment).
You'll see pro-Barwood pieces elsewhere I'm sure, but it's all paid PR. In reality, businesses have shifted to using Uber and employees love the change.

Taxi services have to improve and compete.

Anonymous said...

I hate Barwood and Dyer. Whose on my platform?!

Anonymous said...

Roger Berliner lit you up last night kid.

Anonymous said...

@6:43am Isn't "hate" a bit strong?

I can disagree with someone, but I can't imagine hating them for having a difference of opinion.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Dyer. Uber seems to be working quite well for both customers and drivers in neighboring jurisdictions like DC. Why does MoCo need to over-regulate it? How are MoCo's customer needs different from DC customers?

Anonymous said...

Can we all just agree that Uber is good, Dyer is a joke, and MoCo is liberal nanny state utopia?

Anonymous said...

"Uber seems to be working quite well for both customers and drivers in neighboring jurisdictions like DC. Why does MoCo need to over-regulate it? How are MoCo's customer needs different from DC customers?"

Are you aware D.C. passed n Uber bill literally weeks ago that looks identical to the Montgomery County bill?

Yes or no question.

Anonymous said...

We can agree on the nanny state.

MoCo still doesn't trust us to buy a bottle of wine at the grocery store.

Anonymous said...

@ 7:26 PM -

Actually that's not Montgomery County law. That's the law in most or all counties in Maryland. It's not about "grocers" per se, but a limit on the number of licenses that a single business entity may have. There are many independent grocers where you can buy beer and wine.

Anonymous said...

"Whose on my platform?!"

Dyer sucks, Barwood sucks, the DLC sucks, and your grammar sucks.

And I've hated Life Cereal all of my life.

Anonymous said...

Is there a special tax on taxis which funds the regulatory group that oversees them? If so why wouldn't you extend the same tax and regulations to Uber and Lyft? Or, if the tax and regulations really aren't needed, then do away with them for taxi's all together.

Robert Dyer said...

5:43 Are gas stations, grocery stores, convenience stores, quick service restaurants and auto repairs "antiquated?" They are all still necessary and in tremendous demand. No one can articulate what problem is being solved by giving developers more than 45' in the Westbard Sector. But the need Uber and Lyft fill is quite obvious, and traditional taxi service has become outmoded. Not sure what real estate development has to do with taxicabs.

Robert Dyer said...

5:59: Which of my points in the above piece did Councilmember Berliner disprove? I don't think a monologue in which I cannot respond or provide a rebuttal shows any great debate skill. Do you seriously believe that you can raise the operating and insurance costs for Uber, and not have higher fares?

Robert Dyer said...

6:55: How so?

Robert Dyer said...

7:24: Are you aware that some DC Council members have been caught in corruption scandals related to the taxi industry?

Anonymous said...

I wanna see Berliner school Dyer! Anyone have a video link?

Anonymous said...

"7:24: Are you aware that some DC Council members have been caught in corruption scandals related to the taxi industry?"

Are you aware that the D.C. taxicab industry roundly protested the bill they just passed?

Also, Berliner clowned you because you had no idea what you were talking about. I watched the recording and you just sat there and took it. Must've been embarassing.

Anonymous said...

I second @ 1:10 PM's request.

Were Atomic Wedgies given?

Wrol said...

Yes link please! News! Facts!

Robert Dyer said...

1:11: Mr. Berliner had the floor, and did not provide me the opportunity to respond. That's his prerogative, and the way its works under the rules that govern public hearings. My respecting those rules, and not speaking out of order, does not translate as "you just sat there and took it."

You have not answered the question - which of the points in my testimony or blog post did Mr. Berliner's remarks disprove?

Robert Dyer said...

1:10: How did he "school" me? He recited the talking points from his press release that have nothing to do with the real issues my testimony addressed - fare increases, millennials, exacerbating MoCo's reputation as hostile to business, reducing competition. Lectures and monologues are not debates; they are what those who can't debate resort to.

Anonymous said...

For all that's good and holy in this world, someone please post a link to the video... ?

Anonymous said...

You guys understand how a county hearing works, right? It's not a debate. (Riemer and Leventhal don't like debates).

Anonymous said...

"Uber and Lyft are not taxicabs."

LOL, bulls**t.

It's amazing how their entire business model seems to depend on denying what kind of business they actually are.

Robert Dyer said...

4:05: Can an Uber sedan troll the streets for fares and be hailed by a pedestrian? Hint: No. They are not taxicabs. Metrobus is not a taxicab either. Not every transportation service on wheels is a taxicab.

Anonymous said...

Barwood doesn't get all of its customers from street hails - a significant portion of its business comes from customers who reserve rides by telephone. Does this mean that Barwood is not a "taxi company", either?

Robert Dyer said...

4:53 No, taxicabs have been summoned by telephone for decades, including by me. There are things ridesharing services can do that Barwood can't, and vice versa. They are two different types of services under current law.

Anonymous said...

"[T]he bill sends a terrible message to the region and the nation that Montgomery County is closed for business."

LOL, what hysterical hyperbole. Even Virginia is regulating Uber and Lyft.

"Bill 55-14 would require the county's Department of Transportation to create a 'centralized, electronic taxicab dispatch system' - at taxpayer expense."

Everyone would use this dispatch system, including Uber and Lyft. How is this a free ride for the "traditional" cab companies, but not for new cab companies like Uber and Lyft?

"I attend a fair number of grand openings and events around Bethesda and the county, and I can't recall anyone arriving by taxi for the red carpet."

This is what statisticians call "confirmation bias".

"Millennials [blah blah blah] Affordable housing is being torn down, no major corporation with high-wage jobs has been attracted to the county in over a decade, and the county even managed to run 90% of food trucks out of downtown Bethesda."

And the Litany of St. Dyer is underway.

"If I'm the CEO of a tech start-up..."

But you're NOT... {snarky Rocky Horror Show audience voice}

Robert Dyer said...

6:52: Why would tech companies like Uber and Lyft use a junky dispatch system run at taxpayer expense by Montgomery County? Uber and Lyft paid their own way, they're not trying to live off of the taxpayers like the cab companies.

In saying "other jurisdictions are doing it," you're falling into the same trap as your hero, George Leventhal. By that logic, should Montgomery County adopt a 287g program just because Frederick County does it? Should we follow the DC development disaster that generated 600 homeless children because DC did it?

What you call the "Litany of St. Dyer" is just the embarrassing economic development record of the Montgomery County Council.

Anonymous said...

7:24: Yes, I am aware of the DC legislation. That seems fair to all involved.

http://www.wusa9.com/story/news/2014/10/28/dc-taxi-drivers-protest-uber-vote/18044889/

Anonymous said...

Washington DC has no requirement for medallions and has no limit on the number of taxi or other car-for-hire licensees. And as a result, it has four times as many taxis per capita than any other major city in the USA.

Any reform of the Montgomery County's regulations should focusing on lessening such barriers to entry, which protect Barwood's monopoly, while requiring that all car-for-hire services follow the same regulations, rather than pretending that Uber and Lyft are unique snowflakes that don't need any regulation at all.

Anonymous said...

"Should we follow the DC development disaster that generated 600 homeless children because DC did it?"

LOL, what are you babbling about this time?

Robert Dyer said...

7:27 I don't see what existing issue that legislation resolved, other than to raise the cost of operation for ridesharing services. Uber already had background checks and adequate insurance. Also a nifty violation of the 4th Amendment rights of ridesharing drivers was added, to boot. Not a model I'd want to follow.

Robert Dyer said...

7:40 I guess you missed the Washington Post stories about 50% of affordable housing being demolished in DC over the last 10 years, and the 600 children that were trying to get into the DC shelter 2 years ago.

Anonymous said...

"...a nifty violation of the 4th Amendment rights of ridesharing drivers was added..."

What are you babbling about this time?

Robert Dyer said...

7:39: I agree with you on lowering barriers to entry. I don't see the need for more regulation of Uber, Lyft, et al. I've heard no outcry from the general public about the existing regulations not working. I think people want more services in the market, not less. Making it more expensive to enter the market will discourage new services from launching here.

Robert Dyer said...

9:29: There was an amendment added by Mary Cheh that would allow police officers and hack inspectors the "right" to seize and inspect a driver's cellphone. Not legal in this country, last time I checked the Constitution.

Anonymous said...

9:29 PM - [citation needed]

Anonymous said...

Sorry, previous comment was directed at @ 9:32 PM, not @ 9:29 PM.

Erol said...

I'm not sure out founding fathers wrote cellphones into the Constitution...

Robert Dyer said...

Erol, illegal search and seizure is not in the 4th Amendment?

Robert Dyer said...

9:40: I thought you said you were knowledgeable on the DC Uber bill.

Anonymous said...

lol...you literally edited someone else's comment to say [citation needed] when nearly 75 percent of what you say is made up and never backed up with links or sources?

the balls on you kid.

Robert Dyer said...

12:48: "Lol", vulgar commenter - I don't have the ability to edit other people's comments on here. That was someone presumably seeking a source for the cellphone seizure provision in the DC Uber law. But with you identifying yourself as having been at the public hearing, it narrows down your Anonymous identity. You're not with Barwood or Uber. That only leaves councilmember, Council staff, county employee or journalist as your possible identity. Why not stop hiding, and post under your real name?

Robert Dyer said...

12:48: ...or paid PR firm.

Anonymous said...

12:48 PM -

Actually that was the way I originally typed that comment, referring to Dyer's wild claim about Mary Cheh and the Fourth Amendment.

Dyer is NOT that savvy, nowhere near it.

Robert Dyer said...

1:56: How is citing an amendment by Mary Cheh a "wild claim?"

G. Money said...

Regarding Uber's business practices:

http://nextjuggernaut.com/blog/open-appeal-to-uber/

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Sofia Alissa said...

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