How Taiwan solved the Uber problem
This is part 3 of a 4-part series of conversations with activists from around the world.
We mobilised the taxi fleets and carpoolers and other people. Engaged thousands of people in an online deliberation. Used pol.is to generate a coherent set of recommendations, then the administration ratified the recommendation this week.
I see Uber as an epidemic of the mind. You don’t negotiate with a virus. All you can do is inoculate people: by deliberation, thinking deeply together to develop your immunity to their PR agenda. When you think about something very deeply together you’re immune.
Pol.is is a machine intelligence moderator that never gets tired or angry. It can welcome thousands of people, all proposing a different sentiment. The sentiment is represented on a 2-dimensional view, and you can see where you fit in relation to the other participants.
So before the deliberation, we could see four groups: the Uber drivers, taxi drivers, Uber passengers, and other passengers. You can see what statements they agree on, and also what the other groups think about their statements.
We said we’d only add to the agenda any statement that had at least 80% agreement from everyone. It’s not enough to just convince your own side. Eventually the four groups merged to two groups, and then they had to convince each other.
We have a formula: if it is a 60–40 split for example, the threshold is 80%: all of the majority plus half the minority. Meaning that it is practically everybody. After setting this rule, people compete to find moderate eclectic statements that everyone agree on. That took 4 weeks, which generated 7 recommendations which are very coherent.
Then we sit down with the taxi drivers, fleets, academics, scholars, and Uber themselves. We sat down for 2 hours together, I was the facilitator. Here are the 7 recommendations, they look reasonable to me, do you agree? If not, why?
So we extracted promises out of them. Then all the ministry has to do is to ratify it. Which happened this morning.
Baki: When are you coming back to France!?
Audrey: On the 180th of March!
Jaya: So what was Uber’s reaction? Who represented them?
Audrey: Their lawyer was there, and their PR person from Asia, and the local CEOs: all the important people. We used them to set an example. The next time, when we did AirBnB, the cofounder flew in!
Jaya: What’s the resulting legislation?
Audrey: It’s very balanced: taxis no longer need to be painted yellow. They can display medallions in different ways, like a sticker on the windshield, not literal medallions. Now for app-based taxi fleets, people can register a taxi fleet and say we’re app-based. Those fleet cars cannot pick up passengers from the street randomly, they must be dispatched from the app. These people may not charge less than the standard taxi fare: there’s no undercutting.
There’s a restriction on the app itself, it must be subject to public audit to ensure it displays the correct driver and car identification, how the fare is being calculated, including surge pricing, and most importantly, it must display all the ratings, and the average rating from all customers. Basically what Uber did, and then we made that part of the law. To be eligible as an app-dispatch taxi system you must do that, and the government will help the young entrepreneurs do that. Civil society car pooling.
Finally, the revenue is being taxed on a per-ride fashion, not on a special permit. It’s taxed per ride, which means the Minister of Finance gets to audit the distance and locale to make sure they’re not undercutting. They get the GPS points of the start and finish so they can independently audit. When they do that, the other important thing, the insurance company have hard data to work with.
This kind of legislation. Basically the Uber people caved in on each of them expect for the last one. If they commit to being a taxable entity in Taiwan, then the drivers become their employees, and they are fighting a very important legal battle in California. So if they agree to this last point in Taiwan, the Californian judge will use it against them.
If they lose the Californian appeal, then they can come back to Taiwan and join as a legal app-dispatch taxi company. UberX is illegal. Uber Black conforms to the new law by dispatching to local limousine companies, as taxable entities. UberX and UberPOP are illegal, but only because they are fighting the Californian battle.
Jaya: How long did this process take?
Audrey: Two years in total. The public-facing process took two weeks to set the agenda, contact all the stakeholders, agree on a time to launch the engagement process with a secret URL that everyone can share at once to reach their constituents. From the time of the first constituents logging on to the system, til we got the set of 7 consensus positions, took 4 weeks. The recommendation that the dispatch system must have a 2-way rating system achieved 95% consensus. Everybody can agree on that. That makes it very easy to host the face-to-face deliberation. It was live-streamed, stenographed, live transcribed, with questions from the chatroom so people really feel like participating.
After that, half the Uber Black cars I took, the drivers were like, ‘Oh you’re the facilitator!’
After the engagement on pol.is, it is impossible for people to say divisive things. We already have the consensus. So all that remains is for the Minister of Transport to ratify it. There was a delay of a few months as we transitioned to a new Minister. When the new Minister arrived in office, the first thing he did was to ratify it.
Baki: Audrey, do AirBnB next! And Apple! Microsoft! Google!
Audrey: AirBnB is done. The cofounder flew in and agreed with everything. AirBnB sent an email to all their Taiwan members saying, go on pol.is and represent our side of the argument. What they didn’t expect was that only about one third of their members are happy with them.
Jaya: It’s really vicious, the way AirBnB tries to discipline people who are listing their apartments.
Audrey: Exactly. The tenants don’t get the same insurance protection as the landlords, so there’s a clear power imbalance. In Taiwan we have people with 15 homes on AirBnB, gaming the system. That’s a large problem but we solved that too.
Audrey is pulled away to an interview
Rich: I was going to ask you Baki, in this story, with Uber and that, can you not hear the role of the state in that negotiation. Do you hate the state because you’ve only ever seen it do stupid things? Or because fundamentally you can’t tolerate it?
Baki: Fundamentally I think this situation can only work if local people are ready, and if the local people can make pressure on the government.
Rich: But didn’t the state play a role in that story that no-one else could have?
Baki: I’m not really comfortable with the state. I use them for incremental steps. But I don’t believe in borders so I don’t believe in states.
Rich: The Uber situation in Taiwan has sorted the issue in Taiwan, but it’s putting leverage on the global Uber situation.
Baki: The solution they found in Taiwan, we need to use that locally.
Rich: Uber has no option but to respect the legislation of any government. They can get very creative in the way they negotiate with government, but when you have people like Audrey helping the government to be more creative than any corporation can be, you can see the role that they can play.
Baki: Yeah, with two conditions. Which are two too many for my small brain. First, the government has to accept that people like Audrey help. The French government can’t accept that yet.
Rich: So why do they accept Audrey? Because Audrey has the respect of the 500,000 people that were in the streets of Taipei in May 2014.
Baki: It’s a different culture of ruling.
Rich: There’s culture, and then there’s the threat of mobilisation.
Baki: In France when you mobilise 5000 people in front of the city council in a small city, the man can say ‘I don’t care.’ We don’t have sufficient tools to make him feel uncomfortable to say that.
For example, with Nuit Debout, Place de République is supposed to be the place of the European Cup. It starts next week. The Mayor of Paris decided to leave the Place for Nuit Debout because there was sufficient pressure. If there is sufficient pressure, I can ask them to do things. They are managers. They don’t want problems in their company. The company is Paris. If they tell the police to move us, they know that every day we’ll come and disturb the organisation of the European Cup. And we’ll do it in every stadium. Now that they’re leaving the Place to us, I won’t say that we won’t make perturbations, but we’re going to be pretty peaceful. They are managers.
Rich: ‘Perturbation’ is a very PR word for what might happen! The football was perturbed today… That car is perturbed by the fire coming out of it…
Baki: Yes, some perturbations. But if they removed us from the square, she knew what would happen. We even told her: there’ll be no Cup in Paris.
For that, I agree with Audrey. With pressure, the decision can be imposed on the government. In that case, I accept.
If you want to negotiate with the French government about Uber, let me tell you, the American companies when they come to France, they do exactly what French capitalists do. You know French capitalism is the best in the world. Really. Who is the owner of the European debt? Societe Generale and BNP Paribas. Two French banks. Who owns the malls in Europe? Carrefour or Auchan or one of three French families.
French social welfare is capitalist brainwashing. We pay so much. We’re supposed to know the welfare state helps French people, but we pay for everything. We pay it. I never go to hospital, thanks God, but every month I pay half my salary for this. There is no free health, the only free healthcare is if you are a foreigner who came to France and you get ill. That’s free for you, but for me it is not. When you are born, they tell you the government is helping.
The French army is a private army. The weapons, helicopters, everything is made by 4 families that keep the police and military armed.
So we have the very best world class capitalists.They don’t even need to be violent, they’re cool. The guys can smoke weed with you, and say they listen to hiphop. Why is this?
We have two systems of education. There’s a high level, like a caste. People in the high level work for government. The best brains work for government. Since the 70s, they’ve been captured by companies. They’re created in the same school. This school has a strong alumni which means that people who go to this school eat together, have sex together, network together, for their whole lives.
When the Americans come to France, they hire people from these schools. This means the head of Uber is a friend of President Hollande. Do you think I can get in front of Hollande, me Baki the hacktivist asshole, what power do I have? No power. But that guy from Uber knows the words to use in front of Hollande.
I don’t believe in the pro-active actions of the state.
Jaya: I don’t think any of us here necessarily do. I think the discussion of the state is more about the fact that once you build that kind of pressure, once you get to the point where there is a process that you’ve mobilised around, that needs to be inscribed and protected somehow. So if you develop some kind of legislation around Uber, limiting their capacity within a country, how are you going to continuously enforce that unless it is inscribed in legislation? Of course we’re not going to expect the government to just go ahead and do that because they’re so kind and nice or they care about the Uber workers.
Rich: If the threats that we’re worried about are international threats, then if we could somehow enlist the national governments as allies, then we’ll have a better shot at taking down the international threat. The Taiwanese government, right now I’m okay with that government existing. They’re currently behaving in a way that seems pretty futuristic.
Jaya: The other thing, when people talk about the state, there are so many different sides to the state. There’s the legal system, the police force, immigration, schools… There are so many different aspects of what the state does, even in academia no one can define what the state is properly.
Our friends in Spain right now are realising when you enter into government you’re dealing with the fact that you’re in government but you’re absolutely not the state. The way the state has been put together, the way the civil servants operate, the way the beauracratic machine operates was created by someone who is in government before you.
Rich: It’s a complex organism that is the result of a history of behaviours. It’s not an animated thing with its own agency.
Jaya: It would be great if we could find ways of inscribing these kinds of decisions and agreements and enforcing them ourselves without nationalism, fascism, securitised state mechanisms, for sure.
Baki: The problem I have is that the economic security state, to make it work they need to prove that they have a role in society. I don’t want to give them the privilege. I don’t think they ever do things without being forced to. For the moment.
Our next action is about rent. In France you can drive people from their houses. So we’re preparing this action to force the government to change. Yesterday the Minister of Social Affairs, who was an activist and is now the most dangerous person, she sent a tweet saying Nuit Debout is invited to her office to discuss about this. We discussed this on Telegram, what should we do? I said I don’t even want to give an ounce of credibility to these people, I will never get in front of them to discuss about this.
Rich: You told me for Nuit Debout, you do communications not strategy! This is what I want to examine. At Occupy Wellington I was playing your role, I was writing press releases with the media team. You can’t divorce strategy from communications. You just described a strategic response.
Baki: This was personal. I said personally, I won’t give an ounce of credibility to her. For me, personally.
There’s a meeting for Podemos France which was just created. It’s the Spanish idea: if you want to be in power, just take the movement, take the occupation, then you are in power. People think this. Political scientists study this.
Podemos France invite Nuit Debout to a meeting. My answer is simple. I’m not against people doing politics, to be elected to change things. I’m not against that. But at the moment I think this movement is not yet there. This is my point.
Jaya: Definitely, it would be a disaster! It would kill it.
Baki: It’s not yet there. We have to deliberate ourselves. We have not even agreed to the way of deliberating yet. The tools we’re going to use. We cannot go as a movement to challenge a system that is built centuries ago.
Rich: How much patience is there for that conversation? For the deliberation to choose how we’re going to deliberate? Is that conversation going to undermine the enthusiasm?
Baki: We’re not taking decisions. We have non-decisions. We are deliberating to figure out how the movement works, in the squares. In Paris and all the Nuit Debout squares. This is the only deliberation that we’re taking. We don’t deliberate about who we are to the world. It’s a stage. To be a political movement, we need a position. We don’t have this.
This minister was from the Green Party. She betrayed all her friends so she can now be in government. I don’t give credibility to her and her government.
I’m not as radical as you are thinking. I think strategically I shouldn’t give them any reason to think they are credible.
by the author.