Sen. Marco Rubio wants regulators to stop interfering with your travel choices after a long night out on the town — and he hopes you’ll think of him the next time you hitch a ride through a ride-sharing service.
The Florida Republican is no stranger to assailing big government, but on Monday he continued a gradual pivot toward speaking out on tech issues that he has indicated could resonate with young voters come election season.
“What regulation should never be is a way to prevent innovation from happening,” Rubio said during an event in Washington hosted by Uber, an on-demand car transportation service. “It should never allow government … to protect established incumbents at the expense of an innovative competitor.”
Uber has quickly captured a global presence in more than 70 cities by allowing those in need of a lift to use a mobile app to quickly connect with drivers. It and similar ride-sharing companies have grown massively popular among young urbanites, but are barred from competing with taxi services in a number of Florida cities, including Miami.
Rubio, a 2016 presidential hopeful and onetime favorite son of the tea-party movement, has made a habit of late of deriding government regulation for getting in the way of tech innovation. Earlier this month he spoke at Google’s Washington office about easing federal control of wireless frequencies and commercializing public research by bringing the private sector closer to federal agencies like NASA. He also called access to the Internet “central to human freedom.”
At Google, Rubio used ride-sharing restrictions as an example of an issue that young voters care about, noting that “for the first time, I see young people that potentially might be friendly to more government involvement in our economy arguing against regulatory impediments to an existing business — in this case, government crowding them out.”
Rubio’s focus on wonky, tech-centric issues signals a noticeable departure from his advocacy for immigration reform, which he helped pass out of the Senate last year before the House drove the issue off the table. The first-term senator has not limited his pet priorities to the tech world, just as Sen. Rand Paul’s aggressive criticism of government surveillance hasn’t been at the expense of other issues.
But on Monday, Rubio stuck to script, pointing to how startups like Uber are inspiring examples of the American dream at work. He largely deflected a question on whether an issue like ride-sharing regulation could be used to attract young voters.
Several large cities across the country are grappling with how, or whether, to change their taxi codes to address the growing encroachment of alternative transportation companies. Last week, Seattle became the first city in the country to pass a law limiting the allowable number of such drivers on the road at any given time. Three big players — UberX, Lyft, and Sidecar — are capped at 150 concurrent drivers each, marking a sizeable reduction of the collective fleet of 2,000 drivers the companies estimate are currently operating.
The decision was cheered by traditional taxi companies, but panned by some other observers as a stifling and unnecessary stab at an industry capable of providing immense economic growth.
“Wow. Seattle. You’ve lost your mind. This is how you fall behind in innovation,” Box founder Aaron Levie tweeted after the city’s vote came down.
The Florida Legislature is currently considering a bill that would allow the state to grab control of chauffeur transportation, which would likely clear the way for Uber and its kind throughout the state.
When asked for his opinion of the bill Monday, Rubio said he had not read it.
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