(Photo via This Old City)
The Philadelphia Parking Authority wanted to know, why do people love Uber?*
That was why this reporter was sitting around a conference table at PPA HQ with three PPA execs, the PPA’s PR crew (social media firm Chatterblast, which organized the meeting, and PPA spokesman and self-proclaimed “old media” head Marty O’Rourke) and three other reporters of what you might call the millennial generation (that was by design; the PPA specifically wanted, well, millennials to answer their questions).
Chatterblast cofounder Matthew Ray called it “a reverse press conference.” Instead of the reporters asking the questions, the PPA would. (Naturally, the reporter crew snuck in a handful of questions of their own.) It was an attempt to make sense of the PR problem PPA had on their hands, with transportation app Uber operating its lower-cost uberX ridesharing service illegally and the PPA conducting sting operations to get them off the streets.
The meeting reminded us a little of this conversation on mobile payment app Venmo between older and younger staffers of Quartz.
Here are our notes from the conversation:
- On getting into cars with strangers. The PPA was confused as to why people would feel comfortable using uberX since it’s essentially getting into a car with a stranger. You don’t know if [the driver] has been drinking or if his car’s brakes are faulty, said PPA deputy executive director Corinne O’Connor. (To which the reporter crew responded: It’s the same situation — or at least feels like it — with Philly cabs.)
- It’s about safety and consumer protection. That’s what the PPA said when we asked to explain their stance on uberX. There has to be a place for consumers to turn if they have a problem with uberX, said PPA deputy executive director Rick Dickson. Since uberX is operating outside of city regulations, the PPA can’t play the consumer protection role. The PPA also asked if we thought people would support “common sense” regulations, like ones that would make sure an uberX car was up to snuff. (Would you? Tell us in the comments.)
- On following orders. The PPA seemed frustrated that it was getting flak for doing their job. “We’re just enforcing the law,” said Taxi and Limousine Division Director Jim Ney. He added that it wasn’t a matter of being “for” or “against” uberX — if the state legislature legalize ridesharing in Philadelphia, the PPA would happily regulate.
- On the unforeseen benefits of uberX. Competition from ridesharing services like uberX has forced taxi cab companies to “step up,” Dickson said, and upgrade their technology and their vehicles — something that Ney has pushed for over the past decade. PlanPhilly’s Jon Geeting, who was at the meeting, has a detailed rundown of that point here.
- On the confidential list of uberX drivers. PPA attorney Dennis Weldon previously told us that the uberX driver list was a point of contention: Uber refused to share it. That meant that the PPA couldn’t do its own background checks. At the meeting, Ney said that Uber didn’t want to share the list for fear of another company stealing it.
- On credit where credit is due. “It’s not a dumb approach,” Ney said about Uber’s tactic of rolling out uberX illegally and trying to get people hooked so there’s public support for it when agencies like the PPA try to take it away.
*Nationally, Uber-hating has appeared to have risen dramatically in the last week.-30-