I was tweeting from the Vancouver City Council’s workshop last night on the taxi code (a discussion prompted by Uber) and received a tip: Make sure you only write nice things about Uber.

The tip included a link to a story from Buzzfeed about an Uber executive who talked about digging up dirt on journalists who write negative articles about Uber. “Over dinner, he outlined the notion of spending ‘a million dollars’ to hire four top opposition researchers and four journalists. That team could, he said, help Uber fight back against the press — they’d look into “your personal lives, your families,” and give the media a taste of its own medicine.”

This dinner talk apparently stemmed from frustration with one reporter in particular – and this offers a different perspective on the conversation – although it’s not hard to find unflattering stories about Uber. For a primer on criticisms of Uber, check out Vox’s “Uber has an a**hole problem.”

The Vox story should reassure Councilor Larry Smith that he shouldn’t take it personally that Uber didn’t respond in a meaningful way to a city letter that it was operating illegally.

Smith asked if Uber responded. No, said Lloyd Tyler, the city’s chief financial officer, except to acknowledge receipt of the letter.

Essentially, Smith said, Uber is telling Vancouver, “To hell with you.”

According to the Vox story, that’s just how the company rolls. Vancouver is a perfect example of how Uber has been able to be so successful. The lesson for other companies? Don’t ask permission.

“When Uber got off the ground as a company, its business had an unusual problem. In many markets where it was operating, it was violating the letter of the law. And in essentially all markets where it was operating, it was violating the spirit of the law. That’s because the “spirit” of the prevailing taxi regulations was, almost everywhere, wrong and pernicious. Alongside regulations aimed at promoting public safety, almost every city and state is burdened with rules designed to protect the incomes of incumbent taxi license holders,” 

“Uber’s business was (and is) to destroy the value of those licenses by opening up the rides-for-hire market to a potentially unlimited supply of vehicles and drivers.”

“It’s a perfectly good idea for the world, but you never could have gotten it off the ground by asking permission first. Even where Uber’s business didn’t violate existing rules, it undermined the (pernicious) purpose of those rules and rules could always be changed to exclude it. Consequently, the company benefited enormously from a ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ mindset.”

Stephanie Rice

Stephanie Rice

I cover Vancouver city government. Reach me at stephanie.rice@columbian.com or 360-735-4508.

Scroll to top