Will Deregulating Taxi Cabs in Montana Pave the Way for Uber?

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.

  1. “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.”

    Jon Gruber got 6 million.

  2. Kathy

    It’s unfortunate Uber has been dragged into this. I, for one, want the taxi industry to be deregulated in Montana since I believe the poor service at bar closing time, at least in Missoula, leads to the decision not to call a taxi when needed but, instead, to drive home inebriated. I’ve seen it happen. It takes so long to get a taxi, people get frustrated. The taxi companies need to step up and serve the needs of their customers or step aside. Nothing wrong with competition, Uber or not.

    • lizard19

      that has been a valid and compelling argument, Kathy. but if you’re familiar at all with Uber, it’s not competition, it’s all out war against the competition and critics. since the legislation isn’t set in stone, maybe there could be an anti-Uber clause?

    • JC

      Well, read this article about surge pricing and sobriety tests for customers (for like nights when a lot of people are out drinking — like most night in Missoula.

      There was an article on NPR the other day talking about surge pricing. Pretty much only the rich will get rides home from brew pubs and distilleries in a town like Missoula. Not the poor shmuck who just spend his last ten bucks on PBR at stockman’s.

      • James Maxie

        Surge-Pricing is nothing more than the result of supply-and-demand. Lots of other premium services work that way. It’s more expensive to stay at the Marriott in Times Square on New Year’s Eve than it is in the middle of March. It’s more expensive to fly on a commercial airline the day before Thanksgiving than in the middle of the week in January. Why shouldn’t Uber be any different? It encourages their drivers to get out on the road to meet the demand. What am I missing here?

        • JC

          We grant businesses like taxi services monopolies, and then regulate them so they don’t price surge. Uber breaks a market apart, destroying the competition through unregulated activities, then price surges because the competition has disappeared.

          And are you really going to use taxi service in NY City as a case study by which we model taxi service in Montana?


          • James Maxie

            And that regulation screws everything up. Have you ever requested a cab in Missoula or any other city on New Year’s Eve between 12:00 and 2:00 AM? You will not be getting one. It will not happen. That’s where Uber comes in. Sure, it costs more. Ya know why? Because everyone wants a ride at the same time! And with price-surging it encourages more of their drivers to go to work. Ya know why? Because they make more money!

            I didn’t compare taxi service in NYC to taxi service anywhere. Good luck looking for that straw man!

            • JC

              And once Uber runs all the competition away, they can engage in monopolistic behavior. But that is the preferred outcome to many like yourself, it seems.

              • James Maxie

                What competition? If you call for a cab during times of high-demand the answer is, “No one is coming to get you, good luck”. So there is no competition. Why shouldn’t we allow someone to fill that demand if someone wants a ride if no one else is willing to do it?

              • JC

                I already answered your question, just because you didn’t like it doesn’t mean I’m going to give you a different one.

  3. James Maxie

    No you didn’t. Why shouldn’t someone be allowed to do business if no one else will?

    • JC

      Because that someone engages in the sorts of activities that are talked about in this post.

      You’re asking an abstract question about a concrete situation.

      Talk about trying to counter my straw man with your red herring.

      • James Maxie

        But it’s not a red herring. You’ve agreed that taxis in Missoula don’t show up. So I’ll ask again, why can’t someone else step in to help out?

        • JC

          Anyone can. They just have to follow the regulatory procedures. And Uber could do that, too.

          And I never agreed with your point about taxis in Missoula not showing up. You could just as well make the point saying that during the holidays the airlines are full flying in or out of Missoula.

          Should any old pilot and his SuperCub or LearJet be able to show up and pilot any passenger who indicates they want a ride on their smart phone?

          If the Amtrack is full in Whitefish, should any shmuck with a spare coach jump in and offer seats?

          If the bus from Billings to Missoula is full, can any dude advertise to fill up his school bus with people for a fare and take them to Missoula?

          If the Mountain Lion bus is full, can anybody just get another school bus and follow the routes and pick up stragglers?

          You’re reasoning is really thin here saying that what happens at 2am to the drunk crowd in Missoula is reason to deregulate taxis in Montana to allow a know corrupt business to engage in anti-competitive/monopolistic behavior.

          Sorry, but you’re not going to convince me otherwise. Public transportation needs to be regulated. Period.

          • Those Canadian megaloads were regulated.

            Right JC?

            • JC

              What’s your point? Lots of stupid things happen that are regulated. In fact, regulations allow stupid things to happen all the time. Businesses like that.

            • In your estimation which is worse.

              Letting those earth raping behemoths endanger the lives of western Montanans or a letting us chose our own taxi service.

            • Swede is still befuddled by California deregulation – why market magic didn’t work. Real world feedback does not affect his outlook. He wants everything deregulated. He’s a market extremist, with a religious fervor that borders on lunacy..

              Essential public services are called “utilities” that cannot be left to market forces, as market forces cannot be depended on to provide non-discriminating service. But there are ill effects to regulation, as this ain’t a perfect world. But the public is better served by a regulated cab service than gypsies running around trying to scam them.

              In our travels we have found taxis to be a nightmare, hawkers yelling at us, lying about their fares, unable to give change … We have learned to make our way through the airport or trains station madness to a taxi stand, where regulated operators give straightforward fares. Driving a car is something everyone can do, so that taxi service attracts desperate people looking for easy money.

              • Money doesn’t get any easier than tax-free municipal bonds.

                Right Mark?

              • Will not scream. Will not swear. Will not scream. Will not swear. He’s an impenetrable, lumbering machine rolling across the meadows, slow and unaware of anything under the wheels. Nothing gets through the metal shell. Only occasional bursts of fire get out. Such are his defenses that cannot be defeated. Nothing of the real outer world will ever find its way inside. No one can reach inside, affect the steering, redirect the fire. After all, the driver cannot read maps.

              • Confession is good for the soul Mark.

                How much “easy money” did you make off the backs of Chinese Apple workers?

              • More like “lucky” than easy. That’s all public record, Kwyjibo.

          • James Maxie

            You can always fly into and out of Missoula. There is no shortage of seats on planes. Sometimes it’s expensive but you can make it happen if you want to. You’re making up a problem that doesn’t exist.

            Amtrak from or to anywhere is NEVER full. That’s another made up problem.

            Buses in Montana from or to anywhere are never full. That’s another made up problem.

            However, if you call for a taxi in Missoula on New Year’s Eve they will tell you aren’t getting one. If you complain they will laugh while telling you that they can give shitty service because the government has declared that they get to be the only players in town. So there is no competition and they admit that they have no incentive to provide decent service because of that.

            • JC

              Well, you don’t have a clue about either airlines or Amtrak in western Montana. How many people travel to Spokane to fly to a major city in the U.S.? Lots, and not just because of the price differential but because of full dates around holidays. Likewise Amtrak. I have experienced not being able to get seats on certain dates. I haven’t been on a bus in too long in the state, but I have heard the same goes for them around holidays. You’re just pulling straws out of your hat, man.

              And in Missoula, if you’re too much of a drunk to be able to drive home on New Years’ eve, that isn’t enough reason for me to think deregulation is a good idea in the state. And if you notice, Uber will do a sobriety test. If you’re too drunk to punch in the trip surcharge ( to accept a fare as high as $100 or more) on high use nights like New Years, they won’t dispatch.

              You’re not winning me over James. Contrarily, your showing me how little you know about public transportation and utility regulation.

              • James Maxie

                I’ll stack my United and Delta mileage accounts against anyone. I fly every single week for work. You can always get a flight into or out of Missoula. You might pay out the nose for it, but it’ll happen. If Amtrak had high passenger counts they wouldn’t need taxpayer money to stay in the black.

                But I’m glad you admitted that sober drivers isn’t enough of a reason to allow competition. So at least now you can stop defending government-mandated incompetency with regard to public transportation.

              • JC

                Um, who pays for the FAA flight controller to patrol United and Delta airlines? Who pays for the Homeland Security gauntlet? Where do the millions come from yearly for improvements? My taxes.

                Your weekly air routine is more of a sink on the taxpayers as Amtrak. Glad you finally admitted you are a leech on the American taxpayer too! Hypocrite.

              • JC

                And I’ll add that I find it amazingly humorous and disingenous that those (like Maxie) that profit the most from regulated businesses in their work (taxpayer subsidized airlines) are the first to cry to deregulate other businesses.

                Sayonara, James

            • Jerry

              no if the buses are full you are made to wait if the train is full made to wait yellow cab in missoula sends cabs to each and every call every one its part of there operating authority to do so maybe if you hadn’t wandered either home or to the Ox to eat your ride home would have been
              one faster since you hadn’t wandered off
              two you waited the time that was estimated til the car arrive
              three you can always use their app to call on your smartphone to place your call
              to blatantly say that no cab arrived is a false statement in itself

              • Kathy

                I have had a Yellow Cab not show up twice. Once at The Wilma where I was waiting in the front lobby (I did go to the bathroom but I told the dispatcher this when I called so if they showed up in the 5 minutes I was in there, they should have waited). The Wilma staff said no one came in to check so I’m going with that they didn’t show up. I was kicked out of the Wilma after that since they were closing and had to go to the Top Hat, call another cab and wait by the window for at least another hour. The other time was even worse. I went to the emergency room October 2013. I had an ambulance come to my home due to some severe pain I had in my back. This was about midnight on a Tuesday night. I was there until about 3am where they shot me up with all kinds of pain meds and then released me recommending I get an MRI. I called Yellow Cab and waited over an hour. I was still in severe pain and finally called my boyfriend about 5am since he gets up at 6am for work. He came and then took me home. All this can be verified by my phone records. By the way, I ended up having spinal surgery but that’s beside the point.

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