Manchester, NH: The ride-sourcing company Uber has been engaged in a ritual mating dance with the City of Manchester for the better part of half-a-year as it lobbied to be exempted from the municipal regulations governing the hackney carriage (taxi) and limousine services industry. But Uber has proved to be a feckless partner, coyly offering to surrender to the mildest of demands by the Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BOMA), preconditions made on the very terms dictated by Uber itself. Like some bounder from an olde tyme novel of suspect breeding, Uber simply refuses to give in to thorough background checks.
BOMA members should not be surprised as Uber has proved to be a scofflaw arrogantly defying any and all attempts to impose prudent regulations on it by the many cities and countries that it does business in. Over and over again, “It’s my way or the highway!” has been Uber’s not-so-secret mantra, a remarkable demonstration of hubris is it is the very cities, states and countries it defies that build and maintain “the highway” it claims suzerainty over.
What BOMA members are surprised at is the inconstancy of its aims, to say nothing of the magnitude of Uber’s lobbying effort. If the City of Manchester were one of those blushing would-be brides out of a venerable 19th Century romance, a reader would say our protagonist was quite willing to surrender her virtue without even benefit of a marriage ceremony. A simple ring symbolizing the promise of wedded bliss would be more than enough, as well as a small peek into the suitor’s past.
Our reader might be aghast at the ingenuous, wide-eyed willingness of our heroine to surrender to the exigencies of coupling with Uber on the promise of so very little. Yet, suitor Uber seems determined to put a ring through the City’s nose rather than one on her finger. An appropriate metaphor, as the company has been leading the City of Manchester and its elected representatives around by the snout all the time. It wants surrender, and it wants it now. Give in, or be damned.
During the BOMA meeting of April 21, an overwhelming majority of the Board had had enough. It rescinded Uber’s privileges to operate in the Queen City. The next day, Uber openly defied BOMA, saying it did not need the City’s approval. The situation that has developed since Uber’s declaration of war on the City brings to mind a famous quote by the 17th century English dramatist William Congreve, who penned The Way of the World, suitably paraphrased: “Hell hath no fury like a TNC scorned.”
(The California Public Utilities Commission developed a new regulatory category separate from limousines and taxis called “transportation network company.” This was the result of Uber fighting back against being regulated on the grounds that it was a software company, not a transportation provider.)
Uber’s behavior also evokes the title of an influential paper on the failure of multilateral negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear arm program: “A Rogue is a Rouge is a Rogue.” New York City, surely the most powerful municipality in the United States in terms of the power it can bring to bear, had to wage a hard battle that included suspending Uber operations to get it to share its driver data, essential for determining whether Uber is complying with regulations.
Portland, Oregon, a symbol of some kind of “hip” that allegedly is part of Uber’s cachet with the younger generation, has fought a hard battle to get it to comply with prudent regulations. “Portlandia” is close to allowing Uber to operate, if it acquiesces to providing The Rose City with ride data, just as it has agreed to give to New York City and Boston.
A Show of Arms
The Manchester draft ordinance contains no such provision. It does mandate that a driver comply with the request of a police officer to provide data about a ride to determine whether the trip was in violation of Uber’s proposed agreement to keep its drivers from providing “hail taxi” and limousine services. (Uber drivers would not be able to pick up passengers at taxi stands or on the street who had not prearranged a trip through Uber, or service Manchester-Boston Regional Airport.) This provision is rather meaningless in that it is unlikely that the Queen City is going to devote resources to policing individual Uber drivers, and without a mandate that Uber provided the City with rider data on a regular basis to determine whether Uber’s fleet is in compliance, there is no way to determine whether the agreement is being violated.
Our heroine has asked for so little compared to the suitor’s other sweethearts, yet was rebuffed? Why?
It’s my opinion that Uber never had any intention to cooperate with the City of Manchester, and if it did, any agreement reached with The City would be worthless. Like North Korea, “A rouge is a rogue is a rogue.”
A Show of Arms
Like any rogue nation, Uber will only respond to force, a show of arms. The willing if reluctant use of the abductor muscles to spread legs was met with contempt.
The Manchester Board of Alderman does not vote by a show of hands in the air, but by voice vote. And on April 21, ten members, including two Reagan Republicans not known for favoring increased business regulation, did the right thing by saying “Enough!” in order to ensure the safety of Manchester citizens by requring a more thorough background check of Uber drivers.
The Board said “Enough!” and the bounder who refuses to acknowledge bounds threw the glove of defiance in their face. Now, the aldermen are experiencing a backlash on social media, an interesting development in that Uber hired David Plouffe as its Vice President of Police and Strategy (i.e., public relations and lobbying).
Plouffe was hired in the wake of reams of bad publicity that portrayed Uber as an arrogant bully. As the director of freshamn Senator Barack Obama’s insurgent 2008 campaign, Plouffe proved a master at marshaling social media to help put his candidate in the White House, a triumph of an underdog over the formidable Hillary Clinton, an avatar of the Democratic Establishment. It was this mastery of putting over the underdog against the status quo, plus his ability as a political “fixer”. (as Obama’s presidential adviser, Plouffe was one of the architects of Obamacare. (Ironically, the man who now champions business deregulation helped put one-fifth of the American economy under tighter federal control.)
What comes next in this vexed relationship? Mayor Ted Gatsas, famous for the various economic development deals he has botched in the past, has waddled onto the stage after staying in the wings, now ready to take over the role of matchmaker. “A rogue is a rogue is a….” And now there are TWO rogues that the Board must deal with.