New Economy, Same Principle
In 1994, Jeff Bezos of Seattle Washington started an online business called “Amazon.” Originally billed as an online bookstore, Amazon has since diversified, greatly altering the landscape for how we shop in this country. Amazon was what is known in the corporate world as a “Market Disruptor.” It’s innovation blew up the old models, and created new ways to efficiently connect consumers with the products they want. Much like Under Armor has done in the sportswear industry. Not only selling it’s product for cheaper, but undermining classic companies like Adidas by hawking their inventory in new, and innovative ways.
Uber, the taxi service, is a classic market disruptor for the transportation industry. You can fall back on whatever cliche you want to describe it. Like, “you cannot swim against the tide” on this one or my personal favorite “we cannot put the genie back in the bottle,” but the fact is Uber has changed the game. And no amount of social engineering is going to stymie that. If it’s not Uber, it will be something else. Habits and technology are moving too rapidly for the government to really control. That’s not to say there should be no regulation. Of course regulation is needed in most industries, but the market also needs to be given some time to work first. A “shakeout” takes place, and that is precisely what is happening now in the taxi industry as the old models get upended.
Mayor de Blasio had championed a bill in the City Council to cap the growth of Uber. I’ll put aside the unseemly motivations some have suggested he may have had for a minute and focus instead on the process, which was fascinating. Beginning with an extraordinary effort on the part of Uber to launch a well-coordinated media campaign on multiple platforms that eventually turned the tide. In many ways, It was the democratic process at its finest.
On Tuesday, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito spoke to Mayor De Blasio who was traveling overseas. The Speaker explained that she was losing support among council members on the Uber bill, but still had enough votes to pass it. The Mayor agreed to her idea of bringing all the stakeholders to the table to work out a face-saving deal for everyone. That resulted in the Uber cap bill being pulled, at least for now. The meeting took place yesterday at the City Council offices at 250 Broadway. It was a staff level meeting, but it was the Speaker’s direction that helped bring all the parties to “yes.” Prior to doing a radio interview Wednesday, Governor Cuomo called Mark-Viverito to go over his talking points on Uber. The Uber meeting with City Hall had already been set, and the Speaker hinted to the Governor that they might be prepared to go in a different direction. She asked the Governor to hold off on coming out against the bill publicly, but of course Andrew Cuomo being Andrew Cuomo, he couldn’t resist. His condemnation of the bill helped put the final nail in the coffin, at least as far as public opinion was concerned.
But it was the Speaker who kept what one insider described as the “cooler head” throughout this process. Sometimes the vitriol between the Mayor and the Uber lobby seemed deeply personal and not the dispassionate public policy debate it should be. It’s worth noting that one of the ( hehe ) drivers of the Uber campaign was the very talented Stu Loeser, who served under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. It’s no secret that de Blasio and Bloomberg do not often see eye to eye on some key issues, particularly when it comes to regulating business.
But for all the talk about how Mark-Viverito is a “true believer” in sometimes misguided progressive causes, she kinda got this one right. Others have accused her of walking in lockstep with the Mayor on major policy issues, but this was a defining moment for her Speakership. Throwing down a solid marker of independence. Mark-Viverito seemed to grasp that a better solution could be reached, and she was correct. Let’s also remember that she supported congestion pricing and the advent of the green taxi industry. The Mayor did not. That may have helped undermine his argument that he was motivated by concerns about congestion.
The bottom line is this: New York City has always been about innovation and competition. And interestingly enough, that has been a great equalizer. Capitalism, while harsh at times, promotes an ethos that the best idea wins regardless of race or ethnicity. Profit motive, in a strange sort of way, actually steers us toward a more colorblind society. From the time in 1654 when Governor Peter Stuyvesant wanted to expel the Jews from the colony, and the Dutch East India Company actually came to their defense. The Company’s motives were at least partially that they needed the labor and didn’t care what religion somebody practiced. Business came first. So, in many ways New York City has always been ahead of the rest and that has helped fuel the city’s growth.
Besides, people living in Queens or the Bronx should have every right to order a cab to take to their job or their friend’s house at any time they would like. This is the most kinetic and vibrant city in the world, and getting a cab should be easy-like-sunday-morning, regardless of where you live in the five boroughs.
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