Mayors of Atlanta and New Orleans: Uber Will Beat the Taxi Industry

By Conor Friedersdorf

The car service Uber is fighting in cities all over America to end the regulatory capture enjoyed by the taxicab industry. According to the mayors of Atlanta and New Orleans, they're going to win–but not before there's a long, intense fight about regulations.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed put it this way:

I think they're going to fight a 15 round fight, and I think that Uber's going to win. And the taxicab industry is going to have to change and get more flexible.

But in the interim, they're going to flat out fight it out, and mayors are going to be in the middle of it, because the taxicab industry is so old and staid and never had real competition, and now it's being forced to innovate.

Uber has a real challenge. Uber has to maintain the level of quality that made Uber the brand it is today. And I think that at this point in the life cycle of that business, and that space, they haven't had time to go out there and do 5 years and 7 years and 8 years to see, is your Uber experience the same. Because I had one the other day that was pretty close to a cab. So they're going to have to fight that out. I know that I'm going to get a mean letter, Uber.

I love you.

The fact that he described his worst Uber experience as "pretty close" to as bad as a cab, but not quite, struck me as telling.

Said New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu:

We're having the battle with Uber right now in the city of New Orleans. As we speak, our city council is being the host of the battle with the taxi cab industry. I think at the end of the day Uber is going to win. I think that their technology model is superior. I think their political skills need some work, if I might.

I think at the end of the day, there will be some resolution that's going to be more in favor of Uber than not. Although it does take a little bit of time -- you saw this in New York -- transforming a regulatory scheme that has been in place for however many years... is not as easy as just coming in and ask the mayor to change it. 

It actually is going to be a 15 round fight. And it's going to take time to work out, hopefully sooner rather than later. But that debate will be held. One of the issues... we want to make sure that people are riding in safe spaces. We told the cab industry you've got to have cars that are not older than, the national average is 3 years, we kind up kicked it up a little bit in New Orleans and allowed it to be seven. But we told them, you cabs have to be clean, and you've got to work it. But it is a forceful fight, and our city council is full of people on Uber's side, people on the cabs' side, and it's a battle. 

Mayor Reed of Atlanta then expressed how politically powerful the taxi cartels can be:

I tell you, Uber's worth more than Sony, but cab drivers can take you out. So you've got to [weigh that]. Get in a cab and they say, 'Well that mayor, he is sorry.' You come to visit Atlanta, they say, 'Well that Mayor Reed is as sorry as the day is long. Let me tell you how sorry he is while I drive you to your hotel. And I want you to know that crime is up.' This guy might knock you out.

I want you to know it can get really real. It's not as easy as it looks. 

Janette Sadik-Khan, former Commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation, agreed:

The taxi cab industry is powerful in lots of ways. Lots of ways. Anybody who tries to make changes in a city runs up against them. I think they don't like bike lanes, they don't like bus lanes, they don't like plazas, they don't like Uber, you name it, they don't like it. In fact, I think if anybody knew who I was, like a cabbie, I'd be [gestures as if hit by a car] dead. But I do think that shared economy is here to stay. That train has left the station. It is happening.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/06/mayors-of-atlanta-and-new-orleans-uber-will-beat-the-taxi-industry/373660/