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Uber and Lyft CEOs catch government flack for being no-shows at congressional hearing

Lawmakers are telling the companies to clean up their act

Photo (c) Anatoliy Sizov - Getty Images
One would think that if the U.S. Congress asks someone to appear at a hearing, they would, right?

It looks like the CEOs at Uber and Lyft don’t feel that way. The two transportation network company (TNC) executives made good on their threat to skip a congressional hearing on Thursday -- one in which the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure wanted to hear their answers on crucial labor, regulatory, and safety questions.

Despite the CEOs’ no-show, the committee used the extra mic time to make its concerns known.

“How these new technologies are integrated into our existing systems, and what rules TNCs must follow, must be carefully crafted to ensure that these services are a truly good option,” said Peter DeFazio (D-OR), the Chair of the committee. 

“Lawmakers at the Federal, State, and local level need to think far beyond just whether this new service gets people from point A to point B. What this new business model means for public safety, jobs, emissions, transit service, and other factors must also be at the center of any policy decisions to allow these companies access to our infrastructure.”

Getting control of the industry

With Uber and Lyft holding a 98 percent share of the TNC market, Congress feels that it has to get ahead of the situation before it spirals out of its control.

“Congress cannot avoid its responsibility to engage to investigate its role in overseeing this industry,” said Chair Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) in her opening statement.

Norton’s end-goal is decidedly pro-consumer; he wants Uber and Lyft to understand that having an “app that connects passengers and drivers through technology and hope for the best,” won’t cut it. “[We want to] ensure that the TNC mobility option actually delivers public service safety and equitability and operates in the interest of the public.”

What are Uber and Lyft afraid of?

In anticipation of the Uber and Lyft leaders showing up, the committee sent them a letter detailing the questions they would be asked. Those questions may have been the tipping point that scared the executives away.

Here are some of the questions the committee wanted answered:

  • Regarding crimes against passengers: “Do you support making the number of reported crimes perpetrated by drivers against passengers you have received publicly available?”

  • Regarding local, state, or federal regulation: “Do you oppose TNC regulation and, if so, why?”

  • Regarding wages for its drivers: “If your business model is dependent on drivers generating a profit from ride-hailing services, how do you justify classifying drivers as independent from your company?”

The takeaway

The bottom line is pretty simple -- both Uber and Lyft are going to have to be more transparent about how they’re structured and how they’re protecting the public. 

If the companies’ brass were watching the hearing live from their offices, they couldn’t escape DeFazio’s opening statement capper.

“This hearing should put TNCs on notice that for their long-term survival, and for any hope of ever partnering with agencies who utilize Federal funds, they are going to have to clean up their acts.”

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