Uber to Penetrate Missoula with Legislative Lube from a Missoula Democrat

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Hill said the old law was out of date.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.

  1. Kathy

    The stories cited here about Uber are very concerning. However, the taxi companies currently operating in Missoula have brought this upon themselves by not responding to the demand for services when most needed. And I don’t just mean the drunk people on Friday and Saturday nights when the bars close. I’ve posted previously about my own negative interactions with trying to obtain a taxi both downtown and elsewhere and cannot agree more that the current system does not work. Perhaps the answer here is for the taxi companies to do background checks. I think the problems are less about the particular company and more about the drivers who are hired to do the job. That being said, I would prefer to support a local company and certainly local drivers. Let’s work toward something that works for everyone.

  2. Robert

    Well it sounds like Uber is a good liberty-loving company. Makes sense why liberty-loving Daniel Zolnikov championed the bill as well. Drivers assaulting passengers? Liberty and the free market will sort it out. Drivers stalking passengers? Liberty and the free market will sort it out. Privacy and public safety be damned. Zolnikov Zolnikov uber alles!

    • Nailed it Robert.

      “No one wants to see law break down so completely that people get hurt, but historian Thaddeus Russell reminds us that many freedoms we take for granted exist not because the government graciously granted liberties to us but because of lawbreakers.

      Bootleggers, “robber barons” who did things like transporting ferry passengers in defiance of state-granted monopolies and tea-dumping American revolutionaries ignored laws they opposed. Sometimes these scofflaws loved liberty more than our revered Founders did. George Washington led troops against whiskey makers to enforce taxes.

      More recently, Uber decided it would ignore some cab regulations. It’s good that they did because Uber usually offers better and safer service. Today, Uber is probably too popular for government to stamp out.”-John Hawkins

  3. JC

    Gotta love the Destroy Uber blog:


    “The leader of Uber is a man named Travis Kalanick, a 37-year-old sociopath from the superficial landscape of Los Angeles. He went to UCLA and joined the Theta Xi fraternity. A few years before he entered the university, Theta Xi drew widespread scorn when its internal fraternity songbooks were leaked, revealing the scope of the brotherhood’s racism and hatred of women. These drunken monsters would routinely sing lines like “maggots crawl out of her decomposed womb” and “the dirty fags who contracted AIDS and died.”

    From this pool of misogynists, rapists, and business contacts, Kalanick launched himself into the dot-com boom of the late 1990’s…

    From these humble beginnings, Uber metastasised across the world after securing millions from angel investors and venture capitalists in 2011. In the three short years since then, Uber has made significant headway towards creating more and more service jobs catering to the ruling classes. Not only can people become drivers, they can now be bike messengers or even pilot helicopters for the super rich.

    Kalnick views the contractors who generate his sacred capital as expendable pawns…

    By marketing itself as way to get shitfaced drunk and then get home safely, Uber is hoping to clean the pockets of everyone who wants to feel free on a night like this one. Most people want to feel free, especially when they are not, and alcohol is a good way to pretend. On top of the forty dollars they might spend on booze and food, the average Saturday night drunk can now spend another thirty on an Uber cab. Uber Seattle is always offering discounts for people who go to bars, who love happy hour, who like to get wasted, who dig getting totally fucked up, and who also like to drink. Without the desire to escape produced by this sick capitalist society, Uber would be lacking in drunks to ferry home every night. But of course none of the success of Uber has anything to do with the passengers, or with their misery, or with Jen’s [Jen Joyce, Uber PR flak in Seattle] fierce and terrifying identification with her CEO. No, the success of Uber has only one source, and you already know who we’re talking about. [And Now Here Comes The Politicians]…

    Sometimes the capitalists try to sound like anarchists. Travis Kalanick wants to undermine every City Hall he encounters and render its laws meaningless. But in the end, he wants the laws to favor him and him alone. He is the Uber Man after all, and if the state wants to keep him down, then he should be free to hijack the state and make it serve his ends. Like the besieged capitalists in The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, people like Travis Kalanick will compete with everyone on their way to the top, trampling on their workers and ignoring ghosts like Sofi [a six year old killed by an Uber driver]”

    Yep, freedom, Randian style!

  4. Gotta love Hot Air/Jazz Shaw.

    “The vast majority of those “completely valid” reasons to criticize Uber are largely either imaginary, aimed at the wrong target or demonstrate a reflexive desire to maintain the status quo. A woman in India was raped by an Uber driver. Normal cab drivers commit crimes also. When they do, you arrest them and replace them. Uber does background checks, as do cab companies, but you can’t screen out everyone or prevent them from suddenly going off the rails. Their “sexist” policies in France were rather unwise given the climate of political correctness, but hardly harmful. Smearing their critics? It’s rough world, journalists. Put on the gloves. If there really was a campaign to phone in fake calls to competitors, that might require some police intervention, but it hardly detracts from the appeal of the service.

    In the end, what people really don’t like is that a popular service grew up outside the normal system, costing money to the cozy arrangement between established (and frequently crappy) cab services and the government entities who issue their medallions and maintain an effective monopoly on the market. The cab companies are wrapped up with the unions and they simply can’t stand the thought of anyone beating them by working harder and offering a better service for a lower price. Claims about not having the proper government mandated training and certification are laughably transparent. We’re not talking about licensing somebody to do freelance brain surgery here. They’re driving a car. Get a grip.

    Taxi service has been deteriorating for years. In the suburban area where I live, the main cab services have started sending drivers out to as many as four people requesting timed rides in advance, making you wait while they pick up and drop off everyone else, and still charging everyone in the car the full fare. During a recent trip to New York I made the mistake of just trying to flag down a cab rather than calling for a driver and had two Yellow cabbies pull up, ask me where I was going, and then lie about being about to go off duty because it wasn’t a profitable or desirable enough trip. The cab I did wind up taking was filthy and not any cheaper than the Uber ride.

    This entire debate is similar to the efforts being made to wipe out Air BnB. The old guard doesn’t want to move out of the way and can’t stand competition. And the government is more than happy to help destroy them for their own reasons. I’ll be using Uber in the future on my trips, and unlike Mr. Sutton I won’t be apologizing for it.”

    • JC

      There’s a much larger philosophical debate going on here besides the qualities of Uber or Air B&B. Basically, it’s Randian-style free marketeerism in action.

      Or to put it simply, the robber barons are back!

      Free market libertarians have found a way to shoe horn in their chosen form of economic disruption.

      If those who believe in unions to protect workers, regulation to protect consumers and the environment, and civil rights to protect minorities or the poor want to make any headway, they’re going to have to take on the philosophical and economic underpinnings of Uber and its ilk.

      Otherwise, the whole debate just descends into drunks wanting an easier/cheaper way to get home at bar-thirty, or the opportunists to figure out how to rent their couch to houseless persons. I’d rather we just paddy-wagon the drunks off to drunk tanks for the night, but I digress…

      • We’ve spent $22T(inflation adjusted) on the poor.

        How’d that work out?

        • Darting and weaving again?

          • JT’s words, ” or the poor want to make any headway, “

          • You have a knack for darting and weaving, I think because you lack depth and cannot stay on one topic and follow it through to its essence. Uber, for example, appears to be brash and reckless, perhaps destructive. A true conservative would not want to see wild-eyed radical change like this without careful testing. Google “conservative.” Your picture will not be there.,

            You’re a reactionary, a Randian, so sure you are right about things that destructive policies are of no concern to you. People of your ilk are dangerous. People get hurt.

        • JC

          How’d that work out? Depending on whose point of view you take:

          * Food stamps: subsidy to industrial farmers
          * Medicaid: subsidy to hospitals & doctors
          * Heating assistance: subsidy to energy producers
          * Housing assistance: subsidy to slum lords
          * Daycare assistance/preschool aid: subsidy to fast food chains so the moms can work at below a living wage
          * Obamacare: Subsidy to multinational corps like Walmart so they don’t have to provide healthcare, and to health insurance companies
          * Pell grants: subsidy to overpaid college administrators and building contractors

          Should I go on? All the money spent “on the poor” is just using them as a channel to fund money to corporations and bureaucrats and CEOs. It’s working out just fine for them.

          Give the poor a guaranteed income, and this country would look a whole lot different. The incentives in this country are all skewed to keeping the rich, rich.

          You love disruptive ideas like Uber? Try the guaranteed income. It will be about disruptive of the status quo as anything proposed since Medicare and Social Security.

          • lizard19

            that is a brilliant comment, JC.

          • Wouldn’t a “guaranteed” income still subsidize industrial farmers, hospitals and doctors, energy producers, landlords, and Wally World?

            Nice try JC. Giving money directly or indirectly to the poor increases dependence.

            • lizard19

              what JC is trying to push into your impenetrable brain is this: the dependence you pin on the poor is misplaced. they are merely instruments through which the government funnels capital.

              you will never understand this.

              • With an extreme basis against corporate interests. But hey I on board with booting the funnel. 10 cents on the dollar is all that makes to the end user after all.

              • lizard19

                I’m sort of inclined to not take your word for it. source, please.

            • JC

              Giving tax payer provided subsidies directly to oil companies increases dependence.

              Giving tax payer provided subsidies to coal companies increases dependence.

              Giving tax payer provided subsidies to logging companies increases dependence.

              Giving tax payer provided subsidies to industrial farmers increases dependence.

              Giving tax payer provided subsidies to companies and workers for health insurance increases dependence and binds the worker to the job.

              Giving tax breaks to developers to build boxes filled with multinational trade agreement goods increases corporate dependence.

              Providing tax payer subsidized flood insurance or loss coverage to idiots who live in the flood plain, or hurricane/tornado zones creates dependence.

              Bailing out banks with trillions of dollars of tax payer money creates dependence.

              Subsidizing by not taxing “unearned” income of the financial elites creates dependence. If they didn’t earn it, why should they be allowed to keep it?

              The government is one big tit. And those with political and corporate power will — and are — muscling out the weak and powerless to gorge themselves to the detriment of the country and its people’s.

              So why again is creating dependence among the poor more of an issue than creating dependence among wealthy corporations and banks?

              • Its’ not he governments money JC. Subsidizes are reduction in taxes or a thief leaving your clothes while taking your flat screen.

              • JC

                Sure it’s the government’s money. They printed it didn’t they? Actually, it’s the feds money. They just print it up and give it away to the banks to keep the stock market afloat, and continue the illusion that all is well in ‘merica. The money that trickles down to the plebes is just dust in the wind…

  5. steve kelly

    All made possible by a tax code that panders to capital. Capital goes where the profit is. The payroll tax system creates non-deductible expenses and liabilities out of hard-working employees, while rewarding capital with off-the-top writeoffs for machines that displace workers.

    Uber plays the role of the pimp — takes its (20%) cut while the driver/prostitute keeps what’s left. Legal prostitution. Perfect “free-market” transaction, what’s not to like? Deregulated, privatized, lower taxes. Why Missoula?

    • Unless you’re typing this in the Bozeman library Stevie you used your “capitol” to purchase a “machine” which has displaced workers.

      And don’t ingratiate pimps by saying they only take 20%.

  6. “Never let a tragedy go to waste”.

    I was wondering how regulations, governmental over site and ownership, union jobs worked out for the victims of the Amtrak derailment.

  7. mick

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    The Many Hats of Jim Messina
    The head of Clinton’s main super PAC also advises Uber and Airbnb

    In December 2012, Uber had an urgent problem: Its drivers in Milan were being menaced by angry cabbies wielding tire irons. Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick consulted with investor Shervin Pishevar, the politically connected venture capitalist. Pishevar happened to know that Jim Messina, the campaign manager for Barack Obama’s reelection, was celebrating the president’s victory in Italy. As Messina recalls: “I was getting engaged and drinking my ass off.”

    Still, he took Pishevar’s call at 2 a.m. in Italy, then called U.S. Ambassador David Thorne, who called Milan Mayor Giuliano Pisapia. City police began looking into the disputes. (Things aren’t exactly friendly, though. In February a threatening sign was hung near the home of Uber’s top executive in Italy.)

    Since he took Pishevar’s call, Messina, an in-demand Washington operative and head of Priorities USA Action, a super PAC aligned with likely 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, has become Silicon Valley’s go-to government fixer. He’s still working with Uber—he helped recruit fellow Obama campaign alum David Plouffe as its senior vice president for policy and strategy—and advises Airbnb, used-car market Beepi, and Pishevar’s Sherpa Ventures while serving on the board of cybersecurity company Vectra Networks.

    “We call him ‘The Wolf,’ ” says Pishevar, a reference to the murder-cleanup consultant in Pulp Fiction, played by Harvey Keitel. “He’s a mastermind in terms of political strategy.”

    Besides Plouffe, who joined Uber in August, Messina has been followed into tech by another Obama alum, former White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, who signed on with Amazon.com on Feb. 26. But unlike the others, Messina isn’t quitting his day job. He says he plans to keep running the Priorities super PAC. While it isn’t unusual for politicos to peddle their influence and then return to politics, the simultaneity is a potential conflict, says Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a nonprofit that works to limit the influence of money in politics. “We live in a world where political operatives do all kinds of consulting, so it can get complicated,” Wertheimer says.

    Messina got his first immersion in tech early in the 2012 campaign, when he frequently swung through Northern California soliciting advice and support from executives such as Steve Jobs, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, and Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff. Messina was an outsider then; now he’s a consigliere for startups that need help winning over legislators. “In the industries these companies are in, you have entrenched companies that wake up every day trying to put them out of business,” Messina says. “The existing rules and regulations were not built for disruptive technology, and part of America’s success has been allowing disruptive technology to soar.”

    The Valley has already been lucrative for Messina and his consulting firm, the Messina Group. When he started working for Uber, Messina received an undisclosed number of shares in the company, which was then valued at $330 million. Uber’s valuation is now 124 times higher—more than $41 billion—meaning Messina’s shares are potentially worth tens of millions of dollars. “It certainly helps to pay the rent,” says Messina. He quickly adds: “I think about getting involved in things I really believe in.” He wouldn’t discuss compensation.

    At Uber, Messina taught the combative Kalanick to frame his fight as a campaign and direct attention to the taxi industry’s problems. With his and Plouffe’s help, Uber won political battles in Virginia and Pennsylvania, though it still faces many obstacles at home and abroad. At Airbnb, Messina has worked with David Hantman, a former chief of staff to New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer, to fight legislation barring landlords and tenants from using apartments as makeshift hotels. For Beepi, which lets Californians buy and sell used cars online, Messina is navigating a maze of laws and introducing the company to regulators. He helped score a 48-hour’s-notice meeting with California’s secretary of transportation “that otherwise would have taken six months to set up,” says Beepi CEO Alejandro Resnik. “We consider him our silver bullet.”

    Until 2016, Messina expects to spend most of his time in Washington. (His consulting firm uses three desks in Pishevar’s San Francisco office.) After that? “I would someday love to live in San Francisco or Silicon Valley,” he says. “Right now, I’m pretty committed to getting Mrs. Clinton elected.”

    —With Joshua Green

    The bottom line: Obama campaign manager Jim Messina consults for tech companies while running Hillary Clinton’s super PAC.

  8. mick


    Matt McKenna, Bill Clinton’s Spokesman, Is Leaving for Uber

    Former President Bill Clinton’s longtime spokesman, Matt McKenna, is leaving his current role for a communications job at Uber, the by-order car service that has swelled in size in the last two years.

    Mr. McKenna announced his departure in an email to Clinton Foundation staff members on Thursday. He will be leading Uber’s communications in North America, according to Kristin Carvell, head of business and product communications at the company.

    Mr. McKenna’s move came as Mr. Clinton’s wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, began her second campaign for president. Mr. Clinton will play an as-yet-unclear role in his wife’s effort, and his staff has been working with hers for many months.

    But Mr. McKenna, who lives in Montana, has told friends for the last year that he didn’t intend to be involved in a second national race.

    In a statement provided by his aides, Mr. Clinton said, “I’m so grateful to Matt for all of his hard work and loyalty for these past 7 years. This is an amazing opportunity for him, and well deserved. While I’m sad to see him leave, I am both happy for his bright future and extremely proud of him.”

    Uber is advised by David Plouffe, President Obama’s 2008 campaign manager and an informal consultant of Mrs. Clinton as she prepared for a second run.

    Mr. McKenna will be moving to San Francisco, according to his email to his current colleagues.

    “There have been far more good days than bad, and I wouldn’t have chosen to live through the bad ones with anyone else on the planet,” he wrote. “You are my family and it has been the highest honor to share this experience with each of you.”

    It wasn’t immediately clear who would replace Mr. McKenna.
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  9. mick

    In the last link I tried to add former Montana Democratic party spokesperson Kate Downen. Who also served under, Tester, Baucus, and Bullock. In addition to working for the Clinton’s. She is now spokesperson for Uber Montana.

  1. 1 Uber v. Taxis: A Metaphor | Intelligent Discontent

    […] been following the debate over at a 4&20 post critical of Uber (and of some Democrats advancing Uber-style apps). It’s the free marketeers and […]

  2. 2 Partisan Capitalizes on Uber Snafu | Reptile Dysfunction

    […] was critical of this bipartisan effort to deregulate Montana for Uber, writing this post in May of last […]

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