Working Together on Innovative Concepts – The Uber Post

This portion of the Uber tempest seems to be drawing to a close with the Powers That Be saying they won’t shut down the car service you call using an app.  (For good overviews of the events – check out Scott Kirsner and Galen Moore’s columns.)

Mid-day yesterday I received a well-written missive directing me to an online petition urging the government to work with Uber to avoid a shutdown of the service.  I can get behind that – let’s talk.  (In addition to my marketing work, I also run Mass Innovation Nights, the biggest Boston-region innovation and entrepreneurship cheerleader you can find — I get more than a few requests to support this, that and the other thing. ) Let’s work together to move forward on any issue. This shouldn’t be about the taking of sides or a fight — which seems to be a lot of the tone on Twitter and in some blogs.

As a PR person, I’ve dealt with companies who have a strategy of taking their case “to the press/streets” when they don’t wish to go through the time and expense of dealing with regulations and proper channels.  (Or were just ignorant of them.  Several times over the last few years I’ve been put in the situation of counseling companies who are targeting kids online and who didn’t seem to have any understanding or knowledge of COPPA, the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act, which provides extensive regulation and guidelines around marketing to kids online. And big fines if you don’t do it the right way.)

So, let’s just say that I may be somewhat skeptical of situations like this.  In fact, “skeptical” is probably an understatement.  I go looking for the details before I sign my name to anything like this – and, in this case, I just don’t know enough.  And I don’t know that this is the case with Uber – that’s my point, that I don’t know, and while some people involved with the conversation may have extensive inside knowledge, the vast majority of people are relying on tweets, and overheard and somewhat overheated rhetoric.

I am not a regular cab or car service customer – I live in the much maligned ‘burbs – even though I spend more than a little time in Boston and Cambridge.  I’ve not used Uber but I often hop a cab between meetings just like I jump on the T, or hoof it when neither is conveniently “there” when I need them.  The cab drivers I’ve had have been uniformly courteous and got me to my destination in one piece.  I’ve been able to use my credit card when I needed to and the cars themselves have been serviceable.  (I’ve been lucky…I’ve heard some stories but you get that in any industry.)  Sure, I’d love to have a cab there waiting when I emerge from any random office building but the reality is that cab drivers need to make a living too and my $12 fare to the Innovation District doesn’t go far in today’s housing market or even get you a decent dinner.  And the driver won’t be making many of even those fares if he’s waiting around.  Cabbies have to hustle.

I object to some of the gross characterizations of the government teams as “randomly” blocking innovation.  I object to the characterization of cabs as uniformly bad. There are two sides to every story and I would hope everyone does what they can to find out both sides before they assume someone else is in the wrong.  These are complex issues, with numerous interested and affected parties.  There are regulations in place in many places that are there to protect consumers and yes, some of them are dated and don’t take into account new inventions. How could they?

Let’s work together to evolve those regulations, not attack each other. And let’s not attach labels to hard working people just because you’ve run across one or two people having a bad day at work – we’ve all been there.  Be nice to each other.

P.S. Keep sending me those petitions and such.  There may come a day when I do know something about the issue at hand and feel comfortable signing on the dotted line.  Or, I have enough time to thoroughly research the issue.