Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Why Is Uber Fighting a Regulatory Battle That It Already Won?

Remember when tech startups like Lyft, Sidecar and Uber fought California regulators and won, getting designated as a new class of transportation that was deemed legal?

Turns out Uber didn’t like that. It filed today a petition for rehearing with the California Public Utilities Commission, saying the transportation regulator shouldn’t have jurisdiction over technology companies.

What’s going on here is that Uber is trying to play the long game. The previous decision may have been harmless enough, but Uber being Uber, it doesn’t want the CPUC to get the idea that it can tell Uber what to do.

More specifically, in September the CPUC established a new category called “transportation network companies,” where drivers use their personal vehicles to provide rides for pay.

That applied to the peer-to-peer businesses of Lyft, Sidecar and Tickengo, and to Uber’s own competitor in that space, UberX. It was a highly important decision that helps legitimize the larger idea of a sharing economy, where non-professionals share their resources and time for a fee. And it was hailed as such by the peer-to-peer companies. “We made history today!” tweeted Sidecar CEO Sunil Paul.

Uber’s other businesses, including its original black-car hailing service, weren’t included in the CPUC decision.

What Uber is clearly concerned about is the CPUC extending its regulatory interest deeper into Uber’s business — for instance, saying Uber needs to register as a “transportation charter party,” or TCP, which covers the commercial license for black cars and limos. That hasn’t happened yet, but it’s possible that it’s on the table.

Says the filing:

Uber operates no vehicles, and does not hold itself out or advertise itself as a transportation service provider. … Uber does not even book space or sell tickets. In fact and law, Uber does not provide transportation services of any kind and does not own, lease or charter any vehicles for the transportation of passengers. On the contrary, Uber is a technology company that licenses the Uber App to transportation service providers. The transportation service providers pay a fee to Uber to use its software technology; the passenger of the transportation service provider pays the transportation service provider for transportation services received.

An Uber spokesman declined to comment, saying that the filing speaks for the company.

Here’s the full document:

R.12-12-011 – Uber Application for Rehearing of Decision 13-09-045.pdf

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There was a worry before I started this that I was going to burn every bridge I had. But I realize now that there are some bridges that are worth burning.

— Valleywag editor Sam Biddle