Uber is a very cool and innovative company whose mobile app makes it easier to hail a private limo service. This is the kind of great startup that any innovative city’s government should be excited to have serving their area. But apparently not the city of Cambridge Massachusetts.
Today Uber published this post that they have been told that until some local government agency you’ve never heard of determines if GPS technology is safe or appropriate to use in mobile apps, then they have to cease and desist. In other words, the city is running cover for established businesses by using regulation to play favorites. This is nothing more than crony protectionism (all too common in the taxi industry), and it’s really a shame. The Boston Globe’s Scott Kirsner agrees.
It’s a shame because the Boston and Cambridge area is a hot spot for innovation in the US. I recently spent some time in the area and I was so impressed with groups like the Venture Cafe that I am seriously looking at spending a lot of time in Cambridge in the future. AgilityFeat specializes in software development for startups, and so it’s a natural fit for us. At a minimum I am looking at attending the Lean Startup Machine in October, but I hope to make another trip sooner.
Silly stuff like this though make me think twice. I’m not expecting anybody in Cambridge to shed tears over my second thoughts, least of all some bureaucrat who only understands checking boxes on forms, and nothing about innovation or entrepreneurship.
But Cambridge and Boston do have a choice in front of them. Do you want to encourage a dynamic and innovative startup community that will be the envy of all the US? Then you need to be supportive of innovative ventures like Uber. Or do you want to stick to outmoded regulations and protectionism? Sadly, most bureaucrats will be too short sighted to make the right choice, but I hope that Uber is successful in their efforts to negotiate a reasonable solution. If they are not, then I at least hope that the agencies involved get some major bad PR out of this deal. They deserve it.