Last week the Queensland Government announced that it will legalise ride sharing in Queensland. Annastacia Palaszczuk announce on her facebook page that, “From September 5 this year, my Government is leveling the playing field so ride-booking companies will be able to operate in Queensland, in concert with the taxi industry.” This happened in spite of the vested interests of the taxi industry, the makeup of the Queensland parliament and the status quo. Why then did the Uber campaign succeed and what lessons does it provide for other liberty campaigns?
The campaign to legalise Uber had three main elements: civil disobedience, social media campaigning and it built a coalition of supporters across society and the political spectrum.
Civil disobedience was key to legalising ridesharing. Embarrassingly for the government, thousands of people broke the law by using Uber and working as Uber drivers. This forced the government to either legislate by cracking down on ridesharing or to back down and legalise it. Initially, it responded by increasing the demerit points drivers would incur against their driver’s license when caught providing a ride sharing service. This was then watered down replacing the loss of demerit points with an increased fine of $2356 which was an increase of almost $1000. This was effectively a backdown since few drivers would risk losing their driver’s license, while a fine could be paid by Uber on the driver’s behalf. This also demonstrates the importance of having a financial war chest when challenging government edicts. Without significant financial resources it wouldn’t have been possible to ignore the existing laws that outlawed ride sharing. By disobeying the law ordinary citizens stood up for their rights and demanded their freedom of choice. They chose Uber.
Uber and its allies effectively used social media to both market the Uber services and to organise support for ride sharing. Many commuters shared their stories of both horrible experiences with traditional taxi services and positive experiences with ride sharing. Facebook pages such as a ‘I prefer Uber’ helped organise support. Online petitions were effectively used with a 15,000 responses being printed out and delivered to the Queensland parliament by horse and buggy.
Uber supporters didn’t come from one political party or even from one side of politics. The campaign united ride sharers from cigar chomping LNP supporters to latte sipping Greens. The campaign succeeded because thousands of people from all walks of life stood up for their liberty and refused to bow down to vested interests. In fact no major party represented in the Queensland parliament supported Uber. All the major parties and many of the minors had received financial contributions from Taxi Industry.
For all of Uber supporters in the community there remained many people who were firmly against its legalisation. The taxi council was effective in telling a compelling story of hard working family losing their investment in a taxi license because of an illegal industry. There was also the status quo, many people unaffected by either taxis or ridesharing were against it because it was ‘against the law’. The taxi industry was able to use conventional advertising to communicate their message to thousands of people. Much of this advertising focused on apparent safety concerns around whether Uber drivers had undergone proper criminal history checks or whether Uber vehicle were adequately insured.
So why did Uber succeed? The campaign to legalise ride sharing in Queensland succeeded in spite of well organised opposition because it became a major issue in the minds of many voters. As much as politicians like political donations, they prefer votes. The Uber campaign blasted a bright light on the Queensland parliament and people from all political spectrums and walks of life knew they were being screwed. The Uber campaign also had the truth on its side. The average voter knew that conventional taxis often do not provide a safe or affordable service. In fact the Taxi industry’s attempt to focus on safety probably contributed to its downfall. The lessons for the future are: if you can get normal people to care about an issue, you can get it changed.
What we can learn from Uber’s campaign is that we need to get better at organising coalitions of supporters and develop marketing campaigns that will reach normal voters. Many of the issues that liberty minded people care about affect people’s everyday lives. We need to get better at connecting with those people and telling an effective story. Whether it be tax reform, industry deregulation or cannabis legalisation we need to go outside our libertarian tribe and build support in the wider community.