And when there were no more cab cartels to crush, Uber and Lyft decided to organize their own. The ride-share giants just announced a new regulatory cabal to lobby the government on autonomous vehicles and to smother new competitors in the cradle.
Along with more than a dozen other companies, the pair signed something called the “shared mobility principles for livable cities.” Most of the outlined principles are feel-good, tech gobbledygook. The 10th is terrifying: “autonomous vehicles in dense urban areas should be operated only in shared fleets.”
“Due to the transformational potential of autonomous vehicle technology, it is critical that all AVs are part of shared fleets, well-regulated, and zero emission,” they declared in a statement, adding that sharing the ride-share fleets would “maximize public safety” while also ensuring “that maintenance and software upgrades are managed by professionals.”
Everyone knew automation was coming. Eliminate the driver from the ride-share equation — costs dip and profits increase. Ubers without drivers have already been picking up passengers in downtown Pittsburgh for more than a year. But they just don’t want anyone else to have this technology.
The hypocrisy is obvious. Until recently, the empires of Uber and Lyft were founded on disruptive innovation. They would set up shop in cities and drive cab drivers out of business by offering a cheaper, better alternative. When the industry and its regulators would complain that the ride-share company was operating unlicensed cabs, often in violation of local code, Uber just threatened to leave.
With threats and with a better business plan, they cornered the market. Now they want to keep it.
To protect their business from the disruption they pioneered, Uber and Lyft are now making the same arguments about safety and regulation that they used to rail against. But unlike the local cabbies, these tech goliaths have a unified national platform which makes it possible to coordinate lobbying efforts at the municipal, state, and federal levels. Uber spent $1.8 million lobbying Washington, D.C., last year. By comparison, they dropped another $1.2 million in New York alone.
Over at Gizmodo, Sam Rutherford correctly complained that “Uber and Lyft have a hot new idea for screwing over city-dwellers.” But the effect won’t be limited to just megalopolises. Experts predict that in three years, 10 million self-driving cars will be on the road. In a decade, they will be the norm everywhere.
There are 268 million cars in the United States. Last year alone, consumers bought 6.3 million new cars. But in the future, if Uber and Lyft have their way, they will own everything autonomous.