Birmingham to Millennials: Your Kind isn't Welcome Here
Birmingham's City Council has effectively voted to outlaw UberX, a popular app-based ridesharing program that was planning to move to the city. Once again, Birmingham has sent a message to millennials: Your kind is not welcome here.
The recent dispute with UberX is only the first of many steps that Birmingham has taken to infuriate millennials. First, Birmingham's decision to ban food trucks downtown was the first salvo against the young professional crowd. Despite the fact that food trucks have been a national phenomenon, so much so that California enacted a constitutional amendment protecting food trucks, Birmingham did the exact opposite and regulated them out of existence. A millennial movement, adopted by Birmingham’s millennials, with businesses run by Birmingham’s millennials, was regulated out of existence by Birmingham’s Old Guard.
Now, Birmingham's action against UberX has set the city back once more. Not only did the City Council ban a nationally popular ridesharing program, but its attempts to regulate the service out of existence received national attention. Forbes even highlighted the story.
Essentially, the story is that Birmingham does not welcome new ideas embraced by millennials. Let's be honest, UberX is not marketing its services to your grandmother. Chances are she's never heard of UberX, and never will. The company is marketing to millennials, a generation of individuals that grew up using the collaborative marketplace of the Internet. We bought video games off of eBay, we researched our papers on Wikipedia, we bought jewelry on Etsy, and we buy couches on Craigslist. We are used to blind transactions because we can rely on dozens if not thousands of reviews from other users who are more than willing to point out the slightest pitfalls. In an environment where one bad transaction can spoil thousands within 24 hours, regulation means nothing.
Birmingham's City Council will inevitably hide behind its "public safety" argument. This is the typical excuse for every encroachment of government regulation. However, multiple studies have been conducted on the issue of licensing and regulation, and not a single study has ever conclusively showed that increased regulation, licensing, or prescreening resulted in an increased quality of service. I challenge you to get this quarter's copy of the Alabama Lawyer, and flip back to the disciplinary section. If a licensing was a cure to all ills, then why is this section pages long?
The bottom line is this: Birmingham is not interested in being a test ground for new ideas. Unfortunately, this makes the city completely incompatible with millennials who are perfectly willing to be the test ground. After all, at $4 a purchase, we can delete an app and never use it again within a week. And we can move to another city just as easily. By regulating UberX out of existence, the only segment of the population that we have affected is our millennials. Unfortunately, it's the only segment of the population that we consistently fail to attract and retain. And I wonder why.
Tripp Watson is an Entrepreneur Attorney located in Birmingham, Alabama. His practice focuses on counseling business owners on strategic planning, implementation, and exit strategy.