Uber Protests Highlight ‘Disruption’ Concerns

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This week, Washington, D.C., became the latest city to experience taxi drivers striking over Uber, Lyft, and other next-generation car services.

As with similar protests in London and other cities around the world, taxi drivers parked their vehicles in the middle of major thoroughfares, snarling traffic and drawing social-media ire.

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“Traditional” cabbies have long argued that Uber and similar apps, because they don’t need to pass through a gauntlet of regulatory hurdles in order to place cars on the road, boast a major competitive advantage over taxi services. In some cities, regulators have expressed concern over the apps’ use of private drivers to shuttle customers from Point A to B, and pressed for additional regulations and insurance requirements; Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has taken a conciliatory approach to those questions, recently telling Time that he, too, wants to protect the public interest “while the rules are being figured out.”

Whatever regulations eventually govern the behavior of Uber and its ilk, the battle with taxi commissions around the world highlights what could become a trend over the next few years: the battle between longstanding, relatively stolid industries and the cloud-powered, app-driven startups that want to disrupt them.

For years, startups have embraced “disruption,” or the idea that advances in technology can quickly upend mature businesses, whether taxis or music production or telephone service. According to the theory, an innovative idea in the right hands can prove more powerful than a well-established corporation with thousands of employees and decades of tradition. Those who prize disruption as a theory often cite Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma as a key inspiration, although critics have questioned the book’s ability to accurately describe how industries change over time.

It’s inevitable that industries will evolve and change with the advent of new technology, and that some people within those industries will perceive that change as a threat to their way of life. But are the protests—the disruptions over disruption—inevitable as well?

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