No fare.

Uber and Cabbies in a D.C. Death Match

Megan McArdle is a Bloomberg View columnist. She wrote for the Daily Beast, Newsweek, the Atlantic and the Economist and founded the blog Asymmetrical Information. She is the author of "“The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success.”
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Some Washington cab drivers have signed up for UberTaxi. The rest, however, are not big fans of Uber, for the same reason that small-business owners everywhere hate new competition. With the help of the city's Taxicab Commission, drivers have been waging a rear-guard action against Uber for years, but with the help of a rabidly supportive and politically active fan base, Uber has continued to make inroads into their market.

As it has become clear that their friendly neighborhood taxi commissioner will not be able to shut down services such as Uber and Lyft, taxi drivers have increasingly adopted a new tactic: blocking traffic on Pennsylvania Avenue. They staged another slowdown today as the D.C. Council prepared to take a final vote on a bill that would legitimize and regulate Uber-like services.

Much venom has been spilled toward the taxi drivers on my Facebook feed. But here's what I want to know: What the heck is the point?

The Teamsters union organized hundreds of cabbies to drive around the Wilson Building today while the D.C. Council was expected to vote. But the city council already knows how taxi drivers feel. The problem is, there are more Uber riders than taxi drivers, and those folks also feel pretty strongly. I've seen it suggested that this is a show of force to remind the council that it is risking the large sums that taxi interests routinely contribute to campaigns. That's the sort of reminder I'd think would be better delivered over drinks, in the form of an unsigned check.

Meanwhile, this campaign has been 100 percent successful in alienating folks who might have been sympathetic before they started asserting their civil rights to shut down a major artery in the name of protecting their cozy monopoly. It seems like this is all cost, no benefit.

. . . At least to the taxi drivers. On the other hand, for the Teamsters, it's important to show that you're Doing Something in the face of an enormous threat to your income. And using their vehicles to interfere with traffic is what the Teamsters know how to do. This may not get the taxi drivers what they want. But it might well buy the union some loyalty from its members. When you're fighting a lost cause, the important thing is to be seen fighting.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Megan McArdle at mmcardle3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Brooke Sample at bsample1@bloomberg.net