Archive for November 18th, 2014

by lizard

During the last legislative session, Rep. Ellie Hill teamed up with Rep. Austin Knudsen to draft a bill deregulating oversight of taxi businesses by the PSC:

Taxi companies won’t answer to the Montana Public Service Commission if a bill being drafted in Helena ends up on the books.

Rep. Ellie Hill, a Missoula Democrat, and Rep. Austin Knudsen, a Culbertson Republican, are sponsoring legislation that, in its draft form, removes the commission’s authority over “motor carrier transportation.” If passed, the bill likely would affect a Missoula cab company’s case pending before commissioners.

Late last year, commissioners heard testimony on Green Taxi’s request to grow its business into a couple new areas. Green Taxi wants the authority to carry medical passengers and also operate outside Missoula County, but Yellow Cab, Medicab and Valet Limousine argue the expansion would hurt their businesses.

In an email, Rep. Hill said the bill is still in draft form, Commissioner Travis Kavulla is advising the sponsors, and other lawmakers may have similar legislation in the works. The bill’s purpose is to free up the market for cab customers, she said.

“This would eliminate Yellow Cab’s monopoly on the Missoula market and allow Green Taxi or anyone else to compete freely, as I believe consumers want and deserve,” wrote Hill in an email about the draft bill, LC1416.

According to a Twitter exchange between Aaron Flint and Rep. Ellie Hill, it sounds like Hill plans on working on similar legislation this coming session, again with Rep. Knudsen. What sparked that exchange was a tweet from Flint about rumors that Uber is coming to Montana.

Before everyone gets too excited, it might be a good idea to read up on what kind of company Uber is. I suggest starting with Ben Smith’s reporting at Buzzfeed about the strategy of intimidation against critics being contemplated, especially one particular female journalist. Here is how a conversation between the executive, Emil Michael, and partygoers at a swank get together allegedly went down:

Michael, who Kalanick described as “one of the top deal guys in the Valley” when he joined the company, is a charismatic and well-regarded figure who came to Uber from Klout. He also sits on a board that advises the Department of Defense.

Over dinner, he outlined the notion of spending “a million dollars” to hire four top opposition researchers and four journalists. That team could, he said, help Uber fight back against the press — they’d look into “your personal lives, your families,” and give the media a taste of its own medicine.

Michael was particularly focused on one journalist, Sarah Lacy, the editor of the Silicon Valley website PandoDaily, a sometimes combative voice inside the industry. Lacy recently accused Uber of “sexism and misogyny.” She wrote that she was deleting her Uber app after BuzzFeed News reported that Uber appeared to be working with a French escort service. “I don’t know how many more signals we need that the company simply doesn’t respect us or prioritize our safety,” she wrote.

At the dinner, Michael expressed outrage at Lacy’s column and said that women are far more likely to get assaulted by taxi drivers than Uber drivers. He said that he thought Lacy should be held “personally responsible” for any woman who followed her lead in deleting Uber and was then sexually assaulted.

Then he returned to the opposition research plan. Uber’s dirt-diggers, Michael said, could expose Lacy. They could, in particular, prove a particular and very specific claim about her personal life.

My question to Rep. Hill and Rep. Knudsen is this: if legislation removes taxi companies from PSC oversight, will there be any mechanism of oversight left, or will the free market cabbie environment Rep. Hill seems so excited about on her Twitter feed embolden a company like Uber to come to Montana to steamroll its competition?

Sarah Lacy has a piece at Pando describing The moment I learned just how far Uber will go to silence journalists and attack women. From the link:

Ruining her life? Manufacturing lies? Going after her family? Apparently it’s all part of what Uber has described as its “political campaign” to build a $30 billion (and counting) tech company. A campaign that David Plouffe was hired to “run,” that’s looking more like a pathetic version of play acting House of Cards than a real campaign run by a real political professional. Because step one of an illegal smear campaign against a woman is: Don’t brag about it to a journalist at a party.

The woman in question? The woman that this Uber executive has vowed to go to nearly any lengths to ruin, to bully into silence? Me.

I first heard of this when Smith called me for comment over the weekend. I was out late at a work dinner in London and stepped out into the cold to take the call. A chill ran down my spine that had little to do with the weather, as he described the bizarre interaction. I immediately thought of my kids at home halfway around the world, just getting out of their baths and groggily pulling on their pajamas, and how the new line that this company was willing to cross would affect them.

We are used to intimidation at here. We’ve had sources try to intimidate Pando into silence by withholding access, threatening $300 million lawsuits, spreading lies about our relationships with our backers– or even suggesting that we’re funded by the CIA. We have mobs unleashed on us on Twitter, seemingly weekly.

So my concern wasn’t more lies winding up online about me. Sadly, I’ve had to get used to it. My concern was that the nature of these lies weren’t the same trumped up bullshit about Pando being influenced by its investors. That smear hasn’t worked, and we share several investors with Uber, so that dog doesn’t exactly hunt.

No, these new attacks threatened to hit at my only vulnerability. The only part of my life that I’d do anything to protect: My family and my children.

I wonder if there has been any interaction between Uber staff and our state representatives? Will efforts that originated to help Green Taxi expand its business have the unintended consequence of opening the door wide Uber?

Before they try to deregulate the taxi cab industry in Montana, I hope our representatives take into consideration what a company like Uber could do in a free market environment with no oversight.

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