Ride-hailing company Uber is lobbying Congress to include language in the annual defense policy bill that would allow Uber and Lyft drivers onto U.S. military installations to pick up and drop off passengers.
Right now, some military installations allow ride-hailing drivers onto the premises. Each installation has its own policy that factors in security levels. The language that Uber is pushing for, which is included in the Senate-passed version of the annual defense policy bill, would instruct the Defense Department to develop and implement a uniform policy on how drivers could access all installations.
The language was co-sponsored by Senate Armed Services Committee members Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.). Similar language, backed by Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), is included in the House Armed Services Committee report.
The provision would allow authorized drivers to access barracks, housing areas and other lodging facilities. The DoD’s policy would have to address whether drivers could access areas that need a security clearance, or if those areas would be off-limits.
One approach could be to have military spouses, retirees and Reserve service members — who already have access to bases — be Uber drivers.
That would fit into an ongoing Uber initiative, announced in 2014, to recruit 50,000 military service members, spouses and veterans to become Uber drivers. UberMilitary’s advisory board is chaired by former defense secretary Robert M. Gates.
“It would mean more employment opportunities for military spouses, military retirees, as well as members of the Guard and Reserve,” said Michael Campbell, Donnelly’s spokesman.
Uber has been pressing lawmakers on the issue since the spring. The company is pitching it as a safety issue, saying that allowing drivers to pick up and drop off passengers closer to their housing area would discourage drunken driving.
The effort coincides with a major uptick in lobbying by Uber, which this year exceeded $1 million in federal lobbying spending for the first time. The company devoted nearly $1.5 million to lobbying federal lawmakers and regulators during the first nine months of 2016 — almost double the $790,000 it spent in 2015, according to lobbying disclosure reports. Those figures capture the company’s in-house lobbying as well as what the company pays outside lobby firms.
“We applaud these members for their work to encourage modernization and provide more transportation options for service members,” said Niki Christoff, Uber’s head of federal affairs. “Uber is committed to providing reliable, safe and affordable options for everyone, everywhere, including those living and working on military installations.”
Ernst, who served in the Army Reserve and the National Guard, heard concerns from soldiers about the lack of transportation options on remote bases and wanted to find ways that ride-hailing companies could improve the situation, her spokeswoman said.
“As a senator, she is working to put those concerns into action,” she said.