One-Third Of US City Officials Describe ‘Very Poor’ Relationship With Companies Like Uber, Says Poll

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Eric Lieberman Deputy Editor
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A large portion of city officials say they do not get along at all with companies like Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb, according to a recent survey, potentially signaling a contentious struggle between somewhat less-regulated firms and bureaucrats.

When asked “How would you describe your city’s relationship” with one of the three “sharing economy companies,” only 4 percent of city officials said “very good.” In contrast, 33 percent said “very poor.” Including the other possible answers on the spectrum, 51 percent said good, 7 percent said “tenuous” and 6 percent “neutral,” according to the National League of Cities, the advocacy organization that conducted the poll.

While that means a majority, roughly 55 percent, answered with some degree of “good,” the amount of city officials who answered in the harshest of negative terms shows division between the public and private sectors.

Under an umbrella-term called the sharing economy, which generally means the borrowing or renting of certain assets owned by someone else, businesses like the two respective ride-sharing firms and the online lodging service are new, have (for now) atypical business structures, and thus are, in some cases, stuck in regulatory limbo. Many local governments have passed legislation, enforced laws, and cracked down on companies — some with varying degrees of success — while others have let the businesses operate mostly outside their purview. Traditional taxi companies, for example, often voice their displeasure, sometimes through massive protests, over allegations that Uber and Lyft don’t have to play by the same rules as them.

The apparent disconnect between roughly one-third of city officials and the aforementioned firms is likely due the lack of an official agreement. Only 16 percent said that either them or an entity of the city has entered into a partnership with a sharing economy company, and 79 percent of those who said they weren’t, expressed the desire to do so. That would create clarity for the city, but depending on what the partnership entailed, as in what stipulations and restrictions would be imposed, it may not be sought after by Uber and the ilk. Furthermore, around 22 percent of respondents said that their local government does not support the overall sharing economy, while 62 percent say they do support it. What they mean by “support,” though, may not comport with what Airbnb, for instance, considers supportive.

In other words, cities seem to want a partnership with these companies to make their operations more official and compliant with laws on the books, but that feeling may not be reciprocated due to the obstacles regulations may cause for the businesses.

“There is an inherent tension between companies in the online gig economy that want to disrupt, and various levels of government that want to extend the status quo,” William Rinehart, director of technology and innovation policy at the American Action Forum, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Companies in the online gig economy force policymakers to confront ill advised policies, and unsurprisingly many don’t want to try another path.”

The Daily Caller News Foundation reached out to Lyft, Airbnb and Uber for their insight on the findings, but none responded in time for publication.

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