NEW YORK — Officials here on Wednesday abruptly abandoned plans to rein in the powerful tech and transit company Uber, dropping a fiercely contested proposal to cap the company's growth in its largest market.
New York's city council had planned to vote as early as Thursday on a bill that would have put a "pause" on Uber's rapid expansion while the city studied the impact of new transportation services on congestion. Uber warned that a cap on its growth would have mortally wounded it in its most important market, doubling and tripling wait times, degrading service, and driving away consumers.
Facing what Uber considered an existential threat, the company, valued at nearly $50 billion, deployed a political fury to match it. It ramped up what has already become its famously aggressive tactics, filling New York's airwaves with ads saying Mayor Bill de Blasio wanted to destroy thousands of potential jobs. It suggested, not so subtly, that the bill would harm the very New Yorkers — minorities, the low-income, the outer boroughs — de Blasio championed when he campaigned for mayor two years ago on a progressive lament about “two New Yorks,” one rich, one poor.
Uber's victory is a testament to the depth of the diverse support it rallied — but also a validation of those abrasive tactics.
“This lets other cities know that Uber is not going to be intimidated by municipal governments,” said Mitchell Moss, director of the Rudin Center for Transportation at NYU, “that the days of taxi industry cartels are over, and that meddling with how people get from place to place is not easily done in an age of Internet-based mobility.”
Consumers, in other words, have become too attached to apps like Uber’s that now make ordering a car as easy as two clicks on a smartphone. That base of users has now in many cities proven more powerful than the company’s not insignificant opposition, from traditional taxi providers and labor critics.
As of Wednesday afternoon, as Uber and city officials met following a week of silence between the two groups, the bill’s supporters said they had enough votes to pass it. But while City Hall suggested that threat may have brought Uber back to the table, the company's campaign had successfully made the cap's supporters appear as if they were on the wrong side of innovation, jobs and even minorities. By Wednesday, several prominent Democrats, including the city's comptroller and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, had come out against the bill.