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Uber Wants to Make It Illegal to Operate Your Own Self-Driving Car in Cities

Beleaguered ridesourcing giant Uber has been criticized for a wide variety of sins, both real and imagined. But their biggest sin yet may be what they apparently want to do to the public in the future: force everybody to use Uber’s service by outlawing private automobiles. (I warned this might happen back in 2014.)

Uber has signed onto a document called “Shared Mobility Principles for Sustainable Cities,” which was prepared by short-term car rental company ZipCar and a who’s who of left-wing green pressure groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, Smart Growth America’s Transportation for America advocacy project, and the World Resources Institute, to name a few.

Most of the principles are fact-free platitudes about “livability,” “zero emissions,” and “sustainability,” which is typical politician-speak for increasing mass transit subsidies and painting bike lanes on city streets while neglecting maintenance. So, they basically call for upholding the status quo in urban transportation politics. And to this motley progressive coalition’s credit, the principles document does endorse user fees, with road pricing being the only known way to effectively mitigate traffic congestion.

But where it really goes off the rails is with its final principle:

10. WE SUPPORT THAT AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES (AVS) IN DENSE URBAN AREAS SHOULD BE OPERATED ONLY IN SHARED FLEETS.

Due to the transformational potential of autonomous vehicle technology, it is critical that all AVs are part of shared fleets, well-regulated, and zero emission. Shared fleets can provide more affordable access to all, maximize public safety and emissions benefits, ensure that maintenance and software upgrades are managed by professionals, and actualize the promise of reductions in vehicles, parking, and congestion, in line with broader policy trends to reduce the use of personal cars in dense urban areas.

Uber, Lyft, ZipCar, and others propose outlawing personally owned self-driving cars in central cities, leaving the entire urban core market for automated road vehicles in the hands of corporate fleet owners, as Uber, Lyft, and ZipCar all imagine they will be in the coming years. Uber sees the competition of the future—and it’s you.

Fortunately, to stop Uber, Lyft, and ZipCar’s shameless, greenwashed crony capitalism, we already have a simple solution: state preemption of local policies on self-driving cars. Illinois, Nevada, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas have already preempted municipal and county governments from enacting ordinances prohibiting self-driving cars.

As many of the transportation departments in major U.S. cities are defined by their incompetence and corruption, state legislators should move quickly to stop this rent-seeking before it takes root in their communities.

ADDENDUM:

Welcome, redditors! Thanks for reading. I received some questions on this short post and here are some answers:

  • Why is Uber highlighted when other ridesourcing companies, transit companies, bikeshare companies, etc. signed onto the same set of principles? Uber is the largest and most powerful member of this Bootleggers and Baptists coalition. For context, Uber has a market valuation of nearly seven times its closest competitor Lyft, which I noted is another signatory. It has a government relations operation that dwarfs those of the other signatories. Uber also has higher brand recognition than other companies. Simply put, Uber’s endorsement of these principles makes the document consequential and an actual threat, as opposed to another coalition statement (these are a dime a dozen in D.C.) that without Uber signed on would have been largely ignored by the press and politicians. In any event, I linked to both the full list of 10 principles and the list of signatories, so adept readers should have been able to quickly click through to the source material and made up their own minds without my color commentary.
  • Why is a libertarian employed by a libertarian organization going after Uber et al. for their anticompetitive policy advocacy? We like competition. That word is in our name. We abhor rent-seeking activity from private firms designed to marshal government power to serve their private ends.
  • What’s your motive? Did someone pay you to attack Uber? I am paid by CEI, as I am an employee, but no donor contacted me in connection with this issue and CEI has a strict policy against pay-to-play, donor-directed projects. I wrote it after noticing a tweet from Andrew Salzberg, head of transportation policy and research at Uber, touting the principles document. The blog post took me around 20 minutes to write, most of which was spent tracking down links to state preemption legislation. And I had no idea anyone outside of the small automated driving system policy research community would care, much less anticipate exposure from a major online forum like Reddit. My tweet quoting his tweet is here: