Uber protest portland (15652935714)

Uber the top

Uber Hawaii's recent social media cry for protection against what it characterizes as crippling government regulation is going way uber the top for a $17 billion company that is, in fact, just another big business trying to maintain its profit margin.

Will Caron

Above: A Portland protest against Uber’s efforts to block similar regulatory legislation in Oregon, led by the taxi cab companies of the city.

Uber Hawaii, the local branch of the mobile-app-based transportation network company Uber, has put out a cry for help via email newsletter and social media push over a bill working its way through the legislature. Here’s what their personalized email plea looks like:

Hey Will,

As you know, in less than a year since launching, ridesharing services like uberX are helping to connect thousands of residents and visitors to safe, reliable ride all over Oahu and Maui and providing income opportunities to hundreds of Hawaii residents.

Unfortunately, Uber is under threat of being shut down in Hawaii. Next week, your Senator will be voting on the fate of Uber in Hawaii.

Will you help us save Uber Hawaii?

The bill in question is SB1280 (now an SD1) which “Requires the public utilities commission to regulate transportation network companies and transportation network company drivers,” and “Establishes insurance requirements and qualifications for persons who operate or serve as drivers for transportation network companies.”

*Gasp!* Oh no Uber!

Heaven forbid your drivers be required to carry commercial vehicle insurance (the same thing taxi cab drivers carry). After all, when you become explicitly responsible for the safety of commercial passengers, having insurance is the last thing you’d want, right?

Not only is insurance good for the customer, it’s also important for Uber’s drivers to get commercial vehicle insurance that covers their vehicles against damage and theft, as well as personal injury. Some Uber drivers in Hawaii are also taxi drivers and may already possess this kind of insurance. But there’s no requirement to have insurance to start driving for Uber:

Got a car? Turn it into a money machine. The city is buzzing and Uber makes it easy for you to cash in on the action. Plus, you’ve already got everything you need to get started.

And why shouldn’t transportation network companies like Uber be regulated? Uber clocked in at a $17 billion valuation last summer, and that was up from a roughly $3 billion valuation the year before that. They’re not a struggling start-up. They’re a big company, with drivers operating all over the world. And almost everywhere that they’ve appeared, they’ve rubbed folks the wrong way by assuming that the markets in those areas would adapt to fit them, rather than tailoring their model to fit the market.

Suck it up, Uber. You are not “under threat of being shutdown,” only under threat of being regulated like everyone else. Your cry for help comes off as a populist plea, along the same lines as the call that went out last year to mobilize our nation’s netizens to defend net neutrality. Really though, it’s just another example of a big company whining about controls on the free market (read: their ability to make money). Will it cost Uber some money to make sure that its drivers are insured? Yes. Will public utilities commission regulation affect Uber’s bottom line? Yes. Will any of that “force” Uber to shut down? Only if it’s of Uber’s own volition, perhaps as a way to punish Hawaii residents for failing to support the principle of unregulated business.

SB1280 has crossed over and been scheduled for a House Committee on Transportation hearing on Wednesday at 10 a.m. in room 309. This same committee deferred the House companion bill (HB1287) more than a month ago.