The CrunchGov Essential is a scannable roundup of technology’s influence on the day’s big issues. Below a feature post, we present the most thoughtful, outrageous, and inspiring stories told through the web’s best content. Sign up for the morning newsletter here.
San Francisco taxi labor groups called for the eradication of car ride-sharing startups and the imprisonment of some of their members at a protest in front of City Hall yesterday. “We want to see these illegal cabs to go away. We want them to be ticketed, cited, arrested, if necessary. They should not be allowed as long as you have a regulated taxi force,” said Barry Korengold, President of the San Francisco Cab Drivers Association, who helped organize the protest.
Taxi unions have come out in full force against the growing industry of transportation tech startups, which turn car owners into smartphone-enabled cab drivers. Yesterday, several taxi groups ground traffic to a halt around San Francisco’s Civic Center, as fleets of cabs honked their horns in solidarity.
The party line at the protest was that smartphone ride-sharing services were “unlicensed, unregulated, unlawful and unsafe.” Unlike the strictly regulated cab industry, these ride-share drivers are covered under private insurance plans and company training. Protestors argue that the private insurance policies of Lyft and Uber are inadequate to protect consumers and the drivers themselves aren’t properly trained.
Beyond the carefully orchestrated slogans, however, nearly every single driver and representative we spoke with thought ride-share startups caused unnecessary competition to the already beleaguered cab industry. “How will I feed my family when you take my money?” read one protest sign. “Techno Thieves,” read another.
The speakers were more strident than I imagined. In past appearances with TechCrunch, New York City cab unions simply expressed a desire for equal regulation. Uber, Lyft, and SideCar drivers, they argued, need proper licensing, oversight and training to be on the road. Without the burden of regulation and taxes, ride shares can undercut cabs while ignoring important safety requirements.
But when I probed demonstrators in San Francisco, none could imagine a future where ride apps peacefully co-exist with taxis — even if they agreed to regulation. “If they’re going to be on the road, what’s the reason for having taxis in the city? I don’t want them to be on the road,” said one cab driver of four years. “They shouldn’t even exist,” said another driver, who argued that “if we couldn’t get rid of them,” Uber and Lyft should only be able to pick up pre-arranged rides like limousines (instead of on-demand hailing like taxis).
Over the last year, taxi association leaders acknowledged that animosity has turned into violence from cab drivers against their ride-sharing competitors. Last week, a former Lyft driver told me one reason he switched to Uber was because Lyft’s signature pink car mustache encouraged attacks against him and his car. “You get physical confrontations between legal cab drivers and cabs who are trying to steal our fares,” explained Kornengold. “We don’t condone any physical attacks, but we’re all human and people get angry when they’re stolen from.”
The protests over the legality and safety of ride-share startups was entirely preventive. No one could give an example of where an accident with Uber or Lyft resulted in an unfair legal outcome for a consumer. “None have happened yet, but it’s going to any day,” contends lawyer Christopher Dolan, who says he’s trying “to forestall a disaster.”
Two days ago, I got into a Twitter debate over a post I’d written on why labor unions were not generally accepted in Silicon Valley. I presented survey data demonstrating that unions often begrudgingly accept innovation, prioritizing jobs over technological advancement. On the same day of the protests, the California Public Utilities Commission proposed new guidelines that would allow ride-sharing startups to become properly regulated with safety and insurance standards. If the protests yesterday were really about consumers, and not protectionist policies for cabs, we won’t see Taxi associations fight these new guidelines. Time will tell what their true intentions are.
The Essential: Manning (Partly) Not Guilty, Aaron Swartz MIT Doc, An Anti-NSA Bill, Colbert On British Porn Filters
Manning Not Guilty, Kinda Of [TechCrunch]
–Wikileaks leaker, Bradley Manning, was aquitted of the most serious charge, Espionage, but was found guilty on 19 other counts,and could face over 100 years in Prison
Aaron Swartz Case Deepens [Lessig Blog V2]
–MIT’s report on fallen hacktivist, Aaron Swartz, exonerated the university for most wrong doing, but found that MIT never thought Swartz hacking was “unauthorized”
–“If indeed Aaron’s access was not “unauthorized” — as Aaron’s team said from the start, and now MIT seems to acknowledge — then the tragedy of this prosecution has only increased.
New Anti-NSA Bill [The Hill]
–Representatives Amash and Conyers have introduced a bill to make dragnet surveillience illegal, the LIBERT-E Act
–“The Conyers-Amash bill would require the government show “specific and articulable” facts that the phone records are material to the investigation and “pertain only to individuals under such investigation.”
Colbert Takes On Porn Filters
–Steven Colbert has some choice words for Britain’s new anti-porn Internet filters. Begins @3:25