Mayors unite to write rules for Uber, Airbnb

The ongoing fight between regulators and on-demand giants Uber and Airbnb just took a new twist.

A group of mayors from 10 cities across the world have joined together and resolved to write one unified book of rules dictating how on-demand platforms should operate in their jurisdictions, Bloomberg reported. The mayors, who hail from cities including New York, Paris, Seoul, Athens, Barcelona and Toronto, met for the first time in Amsterdam last month, and may have a set of rules ready by October, according to Bloomberg.

Sparks have been flying in recent months between these companies and the cities that try to regulate them. Home-sharing site Airbnb and car-hailing app Uber have become massively popular almost overnight, and local laws have struggled to keep up amid claims that Airbnb is driving up rent prices, or that Uber is putting taxi drivers out of business. By putting up a united front, the new coalition of mayors may have an easier time laying down the law. Their goal, according to Bloomberg, is to finally create a common set of ground rules that applies to on-demand services across the board.

But cities taking on Uber and Airbnb must tread lightly or risk angering the on-demand giants and depriving residents of their services. Uber and Lyft recently shut down operations in Austin after the city required drivers to undergo fingerprint background checks, and Uber has threatened to pull out of Houston for the same reason.

Tension is mounting in the Bay Area as well.

In San Francisco, which requires Airbnb landlords to register with the city, approved tougher rules earlier this month — now Airbnb will face fines if it posts listings for landlords that haven’t complied. The new rules prompted a backlash from Airbnb, which called them “misguided.”

“Instead of fixing the broken registration system, the board approved a new law requiring platforms like Airbnb to simply kick off any hosts who can’t navigate the ever-changing maze of city requirements,” Airbnb wrote on its policy blog. “Many experts believe this new proposal violates an important federal law protecting free speech and innovation on the internet.”

San Francisco also has begun enforcing a requirement that Uber and Lyft drivers operating in the city buy businesses licenses. Without singling out San Francisco, in a blog post this week Uber took a jab at what it deems to be prohibitive city regulations.

“For policymakers looking to maximize the driver-side benefits of ride-sharing in their cities, the path forward is clear: they should keep things simple,” the company wrote. “This means focusing regulations on genuine public-interest objectives  —  like data-driven safety and consumer protection initiatives — without making it too difficult for people who want to work flexibly from doing so.”

Photo: Foot traffic streams past Uber offices on Market Street in San Francisco in 2014. The urban tech boom is transforming much the long-blighted mid-Market area. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)


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