Another Unfortunate Set Back for Uber

Courtesy of the mayor of Pittsburgh

It seems that officials in Pittsburgh aren’t happy with Uber’s level of community involvement of late. The complaints have nothing to do with safety, even after the recent crash in Arizona prompted Uber to temporarily suspend its autonomous vehicle program. Instead, government officials believe that the company is not doing enough good in the community to warrant the city’s goodwill.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto stated, “If they are going to be involved in economic disruption, they have a moral obligation to society.”

There are several problems with this statement. The mayor seems to be implying that economic disruption is a privilege in exchange for certain terms. In the mayor’s mind, it seems these terms are to be dictated and enforced by the government. This is absolutely not the case.

Economic disruption is not a privilege that entails certain obligations to government. It is, and has been, the driving force behind the American economy for decades. Disruption is overwhelmingly beneficial for society. We have disruption to thank for automobiles, electric lights, and the internet. All of these innovations completely upended multiple industries. But they also made our lives much better off. So, if anything, Uber is fulfilling its “moral obligation to society” by pioneering new technology that will save and enhance tens of thousands of lives each year.

Mayor Peduto announced that he planned to get the company to sign a memorandum of understanding demanding better treatment of drivers, services to elderly residents, and improvements in fuel efficiency. Since the city can revoke Uber’s testing permits for their autonomous vehicles, this move amounts to little better than coercion.

The mayor said that, over the past year, he has become increasingly disillusioned with the company. Uber decided not to offer free service during their autonomous vehicle pilot phase and opted not to participate in certain civic causes. To top it all off, the city of Pittsburgh asked Uber to join its efforts to win the Smart City Challenge, along with the $50 million dollar prize money. The company declined the program proposals put forward by the city. And Pittsburgh did not ultimately win the competition.

Mayor Peduto said that he and others in Pittsburgh agreed “that there needs to be a new social contract that benefits … the cities [where] they are located.”

Uber owes nothing to Mayor Peduto or to the government of Pittsburgh. The company is seeking to improve society by improving a technology that can save lives and reduce the cost of transportation for millions of people. Mayor Peduto would do well to consider that before imposing more arbitrary conditions that will only slow the company down.

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