The taxi industry is crushing Uber and Lyft on the lobbying front, 3,500 to 1


(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

From a public perception standpoint, it often seems as if popular e-hailing apps Uber and Lyft have the upper hand over traditional taxis. Their services have become ubiquitous among young adults in cities like San Francisco and Washington, D.C. Consumers have rallied to their defense in cities where the companies are not yet welcome, and the number of such places appears to be shrinking anyway.

There's an inevitable quality to the spread of these services across the map (a narrative they've had no small part in encouraging).

But here's a good piece of perspective: The taxi industry has donated $3,500 to state legislators for every dollar that Uber, Lyft and their smaller competitor Sidecar have given, according to an analysis by the Sunlight Foundation. As Stan Oklobdzija, a Google Journalism Fellow at Sunlight, writes:

This massive discrepancy in political giving may also explain why, since the start of 2014, at least 12 states and the District of Columbia have introduced new regulations aimed to limit these popular ride-sharing applications, according to a review of legislation from the Sunlight Foundation’s Open States project.

This map from the project rounds up proposed legislation that would thwart e-hailing:

And this map shows where Uber, Lyft and Sidecar are lobbying themselves, based on disclosures in each state:

It's worth noting that the taxi industry also lobbies on issues that have nothing to do with the new e-hailing competition. But the sheer scope of the spending disparity raises the question of how far Uber and Lyft can get in policy skirmishes with an incumbent heavyweight relying on public pressure more than political donations.

Read the details and see the rest of Sunlight's analysis here.

UPDATE: A couple of readers have asked about the timeframe covered by Sunlight's analysis. Their political contribution data goes back to 1990 — to a time well before e-hailing existed. But, Sunlight says, that's part of the point of the 3,500:1 comparison: Uber, Lyft and Sidecar are fighting not just against money spent opposing them today, but against the cumulative influence of an industry that's been spending money on political lobbying for years.

Emily Badger is a reporter for Wonkblog covering urban policy. She was previously a staff writer at The Atlantic Cities.
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