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GOP Hails App-Based Taxi Service Uber, Says Regulations Stifle It

By Beth Reinhard, Wall Street Journal
March 25, 2014 7:33 p.m. ET

There have long been über Republicans. Now, there are Uber Republicans.

Uber, the app-based alternative to traditional taxi services, is becoming an icon among Republicans, who say it is an example of innovation stifled by big government—much like charter schools, for-profit colleges and market-based ideas in health care and other highly regulated industries.

Uber allows passengers weary of hailing cabs to arrange rides through their mobile phones. But in cities from Miami to Washington, D.C., it has run into government rules that make it difficult for the new service to compete against the taxi industry and other established transport companies.

“The company has become a cause célèbre among conservatives,” said GOP strategist Gregg Keller, former executive director of the American Conservative Union. “As a movement, we need to champion these kinds of disruptive technologies, because they represent the free market.”

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida this week became the most high-profile Republican to embrace Uber, appearing at the company’s offices in Washington, D.C., on Monday. “Regulation should never be a weapon used by connected and established industry to crowd out innovation and competition, and this is a real-world example,” he said.

On Tuesday, Mr. Rubio proposed legislation to create an independent agency to assess the economic impact of federal regulations. If enacted, the bill would affect an array of federal actions but not Uber, whose entry into the tourist-rich market of Miami has been blocked by local regulations that limit luxury-car permits and set minimum fees, among other requirements.

Officials in localities with regulations say the rules hampering Uber are necessary, ensuring that companies are liable for their drivers, and that they don’t gouge passengers. They also note that the industry has traditionally been highly regulated.

Uber’s challenges are a topic of discussion in the think-tank world. Michael Gonzalez, vice president for communications at the Heritage Foundation, connects Uber to the conservative argument that the college-accreditation system hampers upstart educational companies and that government puts too many limits on charter schools.

James Pethokoukis, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, called Uber “an economic lesson about startups and competition and how government can favor incumbent players.”

Republican strategists also think younger voters, many of whom live with a smartphone in hand, will side with the political party that backs new technology. “It gives us a real political opportunity with an age group and demographic we’ve been struggling with,” Mr. Keller said.

Republicans have company, however, as fans of Uber. Democrats like the business, too, and they dismiss the idea that it makes the case for other conservative causes.

The Democratic mayors of Nashville, Tenn., and Columbus, Ohio, helped bring Uber to their cities, and it was a Democratic county commissioner who led the unsuccessful charge to deregulate the car-service industry in Miami-Dade.

“This has nothing to do with politics,” said the commissioner, Audrey Edmonson. “This this has to do with bringing Miami-Dade County forward and making it a world-class county.”

As for Uber, company officials say they are happy to win over supporters of all partisan stripes.

Rachel Holt, the company’s regional general manager for the East Coast, said, “We really view this as a bipartisan issue.”

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