Uber’s Big Bluff in San Antonio


For a company known for flaunting the rules and ignoring regulators, Uber’s threat that it might close its ride-sharing platform in San Antonio should be taken with a town car full of salt. After all, Uber has been banned in lots of places (this week in Spain, Thailand and India) and kept operating anyway.

Unlike its hospitality counterpart, Airbnb, Uber doesn’t pretend to play nice with local officials and regulators, which is why it’s getting sued by Portland while the city embraces Airbnb. Instead, Uber relies on its users to rally for the company and defend its practices. It also seems to favor an “our-way-or-nothing” strategy that is counterintuitive for a company seeking to expand operations.

This week, officials in San Antonio became the latest target of Uber’s no-compromise approach. The company sent a letter warning that if the mayor and council adopted regulations protecting the safety of both drivers and passengers, Uber would pull out of the city. Time will tell if Uber is bluffing or really intends to follow through on its threat to “abandon service”.

Bluff or not, Uber clearly hasn’t learned that issuing dire warnings and veiled threats isn’t the most effective means to lobby elected officials. And while it proclaims to be defending the livelihoods of its drivers, Uber has sent a clear message that if something goes wrong during a ride, its drivers – not the company – are on the hook.

Perhaps Uber’s big gamble in San Antonio could lead to other cities wanting the same bet.