Uber TAXI’s Tale of Two Cities

It’s a juxtaposition worthy of Dickens for Uber today: the car-service company announced it is shutting down its taxi-hailing service in New York City, even as it heavily promotes it in Boston by offering free cab rides for the next three days. The difference: Uber easily steamrolled Massachusetts regulators when they took issue with the company’s black car service this summer, but wasn’t able to overcome similar resistance to its yellow car service from New York’s Taxi and Limousine Commission. Maybe it’s overwrought to say that our ability here in Boston to magically summon cabs with our super powerful phones makes New York a “worst-of-times” Revolution-era Paris. But still, for those of us hoping to see a shake-up in taxi service, it’s a good day to live in Boston.

In New York, the TLC immediately tried to shut down Uber as soon as it started offering users the ability to hail a cab from their smartphones. (Uber initially just allowed users to book black car service from their phones. It has since expanded into cab hailing in a few cities.) The website The Verge notes that according to the TLC, cabs can only pick up street hails in the city, and Uber may also violate several other little regulations, like cabbies using cell phones. The company’s CEO, Travis Kalanick, writes on Uber’s website:

We did the best we could to get more yellows on the road but New York’s TLC (Taxi and Limousine Commission) put up obstacles and roadblocks in order to squash the effort around e-hail, which they privately have said is legal under the rules. We’ll bite our tongues and keep our frustration here to ourselves.

Uber has run into trouble with regulators here in Massachusetts and in D.C. but in both cases, a public outcry from their fans has led the government to back down (though the city of Cambridge is still fighting the company in court.) Uber frames this as a fight between entrenched powers who benefit from unnecessary regulations versus sexy innovators who are bringing the future of technology to new cities. Judging from the way they’ve been able to rally customers to their cause in cities where they are embattled, it’s usually a pretty persuasive case. But in New York, it seems to be a bridge too far, and in CEO Kalanik’s eyes, that makes Boston a more attractive location. He writes:

New York City’s TLC will hopefully get things moving, and let UberTAXI back out in the wild next year. In the meantime you can try UberTAXI in more innovation-friendly cities – including Boston and Toronto on the east coast.

Gov. Deval Patrick, who reportedly intervened on Uber’s behalf around these parts, must be feeling pretty good right now. Point: Boston.