Uber Won The Battle For New York—for Now

Screen shot: Uber.com
Screen shot: Uber.com

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to place a cap on the growth of Uber vehicles operating in New York City was thwarted yesterday after weeks of tense debate and some impassioned maneuvering on behalf of the rideshare service. Uber launched an email campaign on Wednesday that quickly accrued momentum amid a stream of celebrity endorsements via Twitter and nods from Governor Andrew Cuomo and other elected officials. Now, Uber won’t have to worry about a potential bill, authored by de Blasio, that sought to minimize its growth to just 1 percent annually while the city studied the service’s effect on congestion and environment in New York.

Wednesday, however, marked the beginning of a new agreement, which solidifies the no cap deal on Uber’s growth while the city conducts a congestion study for four months. In compliance with the deal, Uber will have to release data at the city’s requests to aid with its study. Some city officials have said that an Uber cap could potentially come into effect later on, pending the findings of the study.

“Uber must adhere to the agreement,” Karen Hinton, the mayor’s chief spokeswoman told the New York Times. “Otherwise the cap gets put back on the table,” she added.

Although some in NYC government chambers considered Wednesday’s deal a victory, some officials in New York City’s taxi industry weren’t so happy. Bhairavi Desai, who runs the New York City Taxi alliance as Executive Director, told the Times that the mayor just simply “caved,” and let Uber win.

Uber has long pointed out the de Blasio administration’s connection to New York City’s taxi industry. In an email campaign issued Wednesday, Uber General Manager Josh Mohrer decried de Blasio’s proposed cap as a figurative death-sentence for the company in New York, lambasting everything from the bill’s supposed effect on jobs to the inevitable rising cost of the service.

Mohrer then explained that de Blasio’s political alliance with the New York City taxi industry was the true reason behind the proposed Uber cap. “The taxi industry funded the Mayor’s campaign with over $500,000 and are demanding action to protect their interests. We believe that if the Mayor and city council understand how important an affordable, reliable Uber alternative is to New Yorkers, that they will change course for the better,” he wrote.

De Blasio has made clear in various speeches and public forums that Uber, now a $40 billion company, needs to be reigned in by various checks and balances as its cars proliferate further across New York City.

The mayor recently penned an op-ed in the New York Daily News that outlined his administration’s stance on the matter, noting that government’s meddling in Uber’s affairs is a natural byproduct of public service.

The mayor wrote:

More than 2,000 new for-hire vehicles are being added to our streets every month, overwhelming the most congested parts of Manhattan. For perspective, that means we’re facing the addition of over 25,000 cars to our streets over the next year — the rough equivalent of two times the total number of yellow taxis in all of New York City.

And de Blasio’s concerns aren’t all for naught, as Uber is embroiled in labor disputes across the western world. The company has been at the forefront of the increasingly nebulous debate as to what really constitutes “contracted” labor in the digital age.

Even so, momentum largely swayed toward Uber’s side in the battle for New York City, and not only because of the city’s prescient demand for the service. The company also accrued endorsements from the likes of actor Ashton Kutcher, a known Uber investor, who tweeted support alongside Neil Patrick Harris and model Kate Upton.

Other public officials, like New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and Governor Andrew Cuomo also sided with the rideshare service on Wednesday. Cuomo said in a radio interview, “I don’t think government should be in the business of trying to restrict job growth,” while Stringer told reporters at a press conference that, “It makes no sense to arbitrarily cap Uber and other for-hire vehicle companies before we study the impact of congestion on the streets of New York.”

Since Uber’s New York City launch in 2011, it has grown by 60 percent, and currently accounts for up to 20,000 of the city’s 63,000 for-hire vehicles, according to the Times.

Follow Sam Blum on Twitter @Blumnessmonster 


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