Archive for May 11th, 2015

by William Skink

Thanks to the tireless efforts of political opportunists like Missoula Representative Ellie Hill, Montana’s regulatory landscape will be pried open for Uber—a company that investor Peter Thiel called the “most ethically-challenged company in Silicon Valley”.

Salon has conveniently compiled a number of controversies Uber faced last year, which you can read here. The article opens with this:

2014 has been the year of Uber, as millions have forsaken their city’s fleet of ubiquitous yellow and black cabs in favor of the handy, app-based ride-sharing system. Uber is one of the success stories of the sharing economy and has completely revolutionized how we think about getting from A to B. Yet its ascent has also come at a steep cost: This year has seen Uber racked by a seemingly endless string of scandals and P.R. disasters, with investor Peter Thiel calling Uber the “most ethically-challenged company in Silicon Valley.” Uber had its fair share of controversy in 2013 as well — particularly the debate over its controversial surge pricing tactics — but 2014 was truly the year of the Uber scandal.

For instance: Uber vs. its customers (as we have seen the many sexual assault and abuse claims against drivers); Uber vs. its drivers (as drivers around the world have protested the company’s unfair fare cuts, fee hikes and all-round bad business practices); Uber vs. its competitors (as seen in the ongoing sabotage war between Uber and Lyft); Uber vs. journalists; Uber vs. regulators around the world, and on and so on.

The list is long, but who cares about all that noise when you’re wasted downtown and in need of a ride home. Enter Rep. Hill to the rescue:

Hill said her own experiences trying to call a cab in Missoula played a role in her passion for this bill.

“I came to this issue as a former prosecutor who lives and works and plays in downtown Missoula,” she said. “And I frankly heard from constituents that you can’t get a taxi in downtown Missoula on any weekend night. The regulatory scheme was a lie. That’s why the Missoula County DUI Taskforce and the city of Missoula supported this legislation.”

Hill said the old law was out of date.

I have no doubt Rep. Hill has had plenty of experiences trying to call a cab in Missoula. And I agree the regulatory system is antiquated. But last years long litany of problems should serve as cautionary tales for Missoula and other Montana communities. Here are some of the stories the Salon piece has compiled:

March 24, 2014

A Chicago passenger sues her Uber driver Jigneshkumar Patel for sexual assault, alleging that he locked the car doors and groped her legs, breasts and groin before eventually letting her out.

March 28, 2014

Daily Beast writer Olivia Nuzzi shares an experience of Uber harassment: “At the end of the ride, the Uber driver asked me if I had been near Lincoln Center a few hours earlier. I said I hadn’t, since I didn’t remember walking past there. Then he took out his iPad. ‘Really?’ he asked. ‘Because you look like this girl.’ He turned the iPad around to face the back seat. To my surprise, I saw a full-length, close-up picture of me, wearing the workout clothes I’d had on an hour previously.” Her piece also reveals flaws in Uber’s privacy system, including the fact that drivers can see passengers’ full names.

June 3, 2014

An Uber driver is arrested for allegedly kidnapping a woman in West Hollywood with the intent to sexually assault her. After passing out drunk in the car, the woman reportedly woke up in a motel to find the driver in the bed with her.

Sept. 10, 2014

A lawsuit accuses Uber of violating the Americans With Disabilities Act after encountering numerous incidents of drivers refusing to drive blind passengers with service dogs, and once even putting a dog in the trunk.

Sept. 27, 2014

A San Francisco Uber driver hits a passenger on the head with a hammer after an argument. Recently it was revealed that his injuries may cause the passenger to lose his eye.

Uber sounds like a great opportunity for sexual predators to gain access to potential victims.

Weekend nights in downtown Missoula are identified by Rep. Hill as a specific time period where supply isn’t currently meeting demand. That’s because weekend nights in Missoula are totally saturated with young drunk people.

It’s a good thing Missoula police have made ‘tremendous‘ progress in responding to allegations of rape, because with Uber drivers starting to prowl downtown for “customers” it’s only a matter of time before something bad happens.

I hope I’m wrong.

by William Skink

Here are some Monday quick takes to get your work-week started. First, Seymour Hersh is making quite a splash with his reporting on The Killing of Osama bin Laden. Needless to say the Obama administration is not portrayed as altogether accurate or truthful in its account of what transpired. If there is more accuracy in Hersh’s account, it also exposes the movie Zero Dark Thirty as being shameless propaganda to solidify the lies told by the administration. For us cynics, no surprise there.

At the state level, Ochenski’s column this week reports on what those in the environmental community expected after Tester broke his promise to not use riders on must-pass legislation. Tester did anyway, in order to delist wolves from the Endangered Species Act, and now the precedent he set is being used again, this time to stall a potential listing for Sage Grouse.

Last Friday on Democracy Now, this segment focused on the Obama administration’s interest in doubling the money flowing to charter schools. Lisa Graves, executive director of The Center for Media and Democracy, lambasted charter schools and the “choice” argument for diverting federal taxpayer money into these privatized, money-making schemes. She was especially critical of the profit motive behind online schools, and explained that these charter schools are using millions to advertise and lobby congress for more taxpayer loot. If this sounds similar to the argument put forth by Rep. Hill (D-Missoula) regarding deregulating taxi service in Montana, it’s because online companies like Uber are making similar declarations that their interest in elbowing into new markets with the kind of legislation Rep. Hill co-sponsored is all about choice. That’s a lie, of course. It’s all about money.

Now, let’s get back to work!

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