UBER, THE DISRUPTIVE RIDE SHARING/TAXI APP, has often been discussed due to its meteoric rise and massive $40 billion dollar evaluation. Still growing, Uber has faced many challenges along the way, not only from competitors like Lyft and traditional taxi companies, but also from municipal legislation at all levels. However, so far Uber has been able to overcome each of these obstacles in no small part due to its reliance on lobbying and over the past year it has “built one of the largest and most successful lobbying forces in the country,” according to an in depth profile into Uber’s strategy by Bloomberg.
This blog has previously discussed Uber’s strategy of using state and local level lobbying efforts to reach their corporate goals due to a regulatory environment that is constantly shifting in many municipalities. For example, Bloomberg reports last year “Colorado passed the first ride-sharing legislation in the country. Since then, about 50 U.S. jurisdictions have adopted ordinances recognizing Uber and Lyft as a new type of transit provider called ‘transportation network companies.'” Some states, like Virginia, have attempted to stop Uber from operating in their area but failed after significant backlash. According to The Washington Post, “Uber’s approach is brash and, so far, highly effective: It launches in local markets regardless of existing laws or regulations. It aims to build a large customer base as quickly as possible. When challenged, Uber rallies its users to pressure government officials, while unleashing its well-connected lobbyists to influence lawmakers.”
Uber’s ability to implement such a strategy is in no small part due to the sheer size and spread of its lobbying operations. In the United States alone Uber employs 250 lobbyists and has 29 different lobbying firms registered to work on its behalf in capitols around the nation. This may seem like a lot, but this doesn’t even include the number of municipal lobbyists employed by Uber. Using lobbyists who are familiar with the local players and policies has been another important tool in Uber’s lobbying strategy. Bloomberg reports that In Portland Uber “hired a new team of local lobbyists headed by Dan Bates, who used to work as Portland’s own lobbyist in the state capitol…In Kansas, it hired Governor Sam Brownback’s former campaign manager and another lobbyist who also works for Koch Industries. In Connecticut, it contracted with a former House speaker’s firm, and in Illinois it brought on the former governor’s chief of staff.”
It is impossible to calculate the total amount spent by Uber on lobbying as states, cities and local municipalities all have different reporting requirements however, from the reports that are disclosed we know that it is a costly battle at every level with Uber spending $208,000 in Maryland and $684,000 in California and more than $600,000 in Seattle and $314,000 lobbying in Washington, D.C.