Uber & Food Trucks: How the Internet Stokes the Flame of Once Little-Known Causes

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Internet users hope a grassroots campaign will give Uber a foothold in Houston.
When Howard Dean was a Democratic candidate for president, he did something no other national candidate had ever done -- no, not the scream in Iowa -- he raised a significant portion of his campaign funds using the Internet. That might not sound like a big deal today, but at the time it was revolutionary, and it substantively changed how candidates, big and small, raise money for campaigns and causes.

Now anyone with a cause or a business offer can raise money online. And if you are able to tap into a small niche group and its desires, you can likely bring in quite a bit of cash. Social media, in particular, has become a rallying point for problems most of us didn't even know existed...and often didn't care about.

Last year, Houston city council chambers were packed with young mostly urban dwellers. Having raised awareness for their cause using social media, they rounded up followers on a Tuesday morning and, one after another, strode to the podium and passionately made their case. You might think the cause was violent crime plaguing neighborhoods or broken streets badly in need of repair, but you'd be wrong. In this case, it was food trucks, and not complaints over their health and safety, but rather the demand they be allowed to operate downtown -- an ordinance had long prevented it.

Before this "problem" was publicized through social media, very few people even realized it was an issue. In fact, despite the extreme rise in popularity of food trucks over the past few years for those who live in or near the city, it is barely a blip on the radar for the vast majority of Houstonians.

Yet food trucks are another example of a niche cause turning into a political debate thanks to the web.

Take the latest cause du jour for Houston: Uber. The app-based car service that is trying to revolutionize the world of taxis has come to Houston, but is prevented from accepting fares because the city has regulations that limit these services to licensed taxi and limo drivers. Because Uber's drivers are not licensed and not even technically employees of the service, they don't pass muster.

But that hasn't stopped a very vocal minority of app-happy technophiles from demanding services like Uber and Lyft be given access to the city's desperate riders. With cab service often terribly unreliable, particularly at peak times, it makes sense that other options be made available, but is it worthy of furious debate? The Mayor's office, in response to the companies seeking business here and numerous requests from supporters, is reviewing the issue this week.

Even Rockets GM Daryl Morey gave the thumbs up to Uber in a recent tweet and a link to a petition supporting the car services:

But much like the food truck dilemma, this is an issue that affects only a small percentage of people.

Ten years ago, before the rise of the gourmet food truck, no one was lining up in defense of the taco trucks that sat along roadways in some of our city's lower-income neighborhoods even if young chefs were discovering cuisine there that would later help to redefine our city's dining landscape. It only became an issue when it threatened a new trend and when there was a way to do grassroots politics differently.

This story continues on the next page.



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3 comments
jkclaypool
jkclaypool

If I was on the outside looking in, my view would echo the writers, and probably the bulk of the readers.However, comparing the Uber campaign to the Food Truck campaign is an apple to oranges task.If the food trucks win their battle, the public would expect them to follow ordinances (cleanliness, etc..) in place to protect the public safety, and I am sure they would.If Uber is allowed in Houston, they want to defy these ordinances, and in fact try to change them.

Just ask that to the family of Sophia Liu, a six year old girl who was killed by an Uber Driver on New Year’s eve. They are currently in court because Uber’s insurance policy (that they have yet to produce for the city of Houston) would not cover the accident. And, as the driver was working for Uber at the time it also voided his personal insurance.

Also, there have been accusations (though no prosecutions that I can see) of issues between Uber drivers (who do not necessarily have a thorough criminal background check) and its passengers.

Unlike the Food Truck against Restaurant debate, which is professional against professional.The Vehicle-for-Hire against Uber debate is professional against guerrilla marketer.And I am worried that in this case the guerilla marketer will win.

johnatrisk
johnatrisk

I've never had any inconvenience waiting for a cab here...the yellow cab app HailACab is one click ordering with GPS locating for you and the driver so you can watch the cab come pick you up. Autopay via credit card if you used up all your cash at the bar. My maximum wait time over about 200 cab rides (I go out a lot...) is about 10 minutes, and that was during White Linen Night. And guess what? It didn't cost triple because it was busy. I get that it's cool and all, but until you can specify a van, a wheelchair accessible transport, or pay $6 for 4 people to ride across downtown...I don't see the value. Uber seems more for people who just want to ride with other people like them. And in a city as spread out as houston, good luck getting an Uber ride quickly. If you think that Yellow is slow to get you, keep in mind they have like a 1000 cabs on the road at any one time. Which means there will limited Uber supply on busy nights: welcome to triple fares!


Now getting cabs in New Orleans, that's a different proposition. Unless you know the special numbers, you're never getting nowhere. That's where Uber should go.

johnnyboy729
johnnyboy729

I've recently lived in Denver and Dallas, and have found Uber and Lyft to be wildly popular and successful in both cities.  Primarily, as a means of transportation when drinking.   Pickups take about 5 minutes, rather than waiting 30+ minutes for a cab that often doesn't arrive, or takes 30 minutes more than the quoted time.  


A lot of people choose to drive due to the inconvenience of cabs here.  Any method we can instate to alleviate drinking and driving is a positive.


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