The usual suspects — health care, immigration, welfare — are once again at the center of the 2016 presidential election. But this time around, a company barely on the map last cycle is a hot-button topic: The popular ride-sharing service Uber has become a bellwether for the positions a candidate will take on the future of the workplace and how we should regulate it.
Republicans, predictably, love Uber. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., for example, likes the company because he thinks it shows how unnecessary government is to modern life. Jeb Bush, who just last week zipped around San Francisco using the service, believes that Uber encapsulates the American spirit of entrepreneurship.
Democrats are warier. Party front-runner Hillary Clinton has not mentioned Uber by name, but she did reference it in a speech on the economy in which she both worried about protections for workers and praised start-up companies for “unleashing innovation.” Similarly, Martin O’Malley says Uber helps revitalize cities, yet he also calls for stricter labor laws to keep the company in check.
It’s bad politics for any candidate to come down too hard on a service that caters to — and has charmed — millennial voters all over the country. It’s also bad policy. We supported Uber long before Jeffrey Bezos, an investor in the company, purchased The Post and long before politicians began praising the service on the national stage. Uber, a perfect example of how a disruptive technology can improve a formerly noncompetitive market, serves a real need in cities where taxis have taken advantage of riders for years.
But that does not mean Uber is above all criticism, or all regulation. Safety incidents connected to the service abound, from a company driver hitting and killing a 6-year-old girl in San Francisco in 2013 to sexual assault accusations against drivers in Chicago and Boston. By classifying its drivers as independent contractors rather than employees, Uber often avoids offering any insurance to its workers.
Policies such as New York Mayor Bill deBlasio’s proposed cap on new-hire licenses for Uber drivers are too restrictive. But in states such as California, Uber is shirking even the rules the company itself proposed to state regulators. It is irresponsible for Uber not to accept the need for stricter reporting requirements and background checks to protect passengers, as well as the need for insurance to protect drivers. Politicians should recognize that, too.
The District of Columbia and Virginia both came to agreements with Uber that allow the company a chance to compete while minimizing the risk to both drivers and riders. There’s no reason other cities and states cannot do the same, and no reason 2016 contenders eager to embrace Uber should not also be thinking of ways to regulate ride-sharing responsibly.