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I’m not sure if New York mayor Bill DeBlasio appreciated what he was up against when he decided to take on car-sharing service, Uber.  Now that his bill that would have capped Uber has been shelved, DeBlasio, skillful politician that he is, has done what any skillful politician would do when the signs of defeat become apparent: order a study to be conducted and declare “victory.”

I am sure this is not the victory DeBlasio had in mind when he decided to take on Uber.

I am sure, too, that while I was watching the Yankees the other night, I saw at least 3 pro-Uber commercials aimed directly at DeBlasio and they were slicker than the running catch Jacoby Ellsbury made in centerfield. They were meant to appeal to the blue-collar viewers and I think they were successful.  In the end, DeBlasio backed down from his proposal to cap new Uber vehicles in favor of a four-month traffic study, but not before a flock of famous people flooded the Twitterverse with missives about jobs and competition.  The celebrities included Ashton Kutcher, Kate Upton, Neil Patrick Harris. (Kutcher, by the way, is an investor in Uber.) Even Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio got in on the act.

Interestingly, it seems DeBlasio didn’t always have a problem with Uber, though.  When he was running for mayor in 2013, he and his campaign  hired the company 52 times and spent $1,642 on rides, according to campaign finance records.  The campaign used Uber far more than it did yellow cabs, according to the records.  It spent $534.46 on 18 taxi trips.

Uber, a $40 billion company, has become a dominant force on the streets of New York. There are roughly 63,000 vehicles in the city’s for-hire industry, which includes black and livery cars; as well as more than 13,000 yellow taxis. About 25,000 of the for-hire vehicles have arrived since 2011, the year of Uber’s debut. As of July 8, according to the taxi commission, Uber’s bases had more than 19,000 vehicles, about 65 percent of vehicles in the black car industry. Many of those of the yellow cab drivers are reluctant to leave Manhattan.  In candor, the number which speaks the loudest to me, is the $550,000 from the (yellow) cab industry which the DeBlasio campaign raked in.

Uber is not the best thing since sliced bread.  One critic has said that “[l]ike so many Wall Street-funded startups in cyberspace, Uber looks more like another scheme by the people at the top to bleed the people at the bottom.”

That critique seems to me a bit harsh. Surely, though, appropriate regulation will be needed. In the end, it seems to me that Uber, overall, will be a boon for the City, especially the outer boroughs.

-Karim

 

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