The 250 mayors who indulge in the free breakfast or lunch on offer at the Hilton Union Square Hotel on Sunday during this year's U.S. Conference of Mayors will have Mayor Paul Soglin of Madison, Wis., to thank, at least according to him.
The meals will be picked up by app-hailed ride providers Uber and Lyft, sworn enemies who have joined forces to sponsor the conference. This unlikely alliance is, Soglin claims, in response to his push to get the nation's mayors to follow his lead and endorse local regulation of the app-hailed taxi alternatives.
"One of the best things I could have done for this organization was introduce that resolution because of how much money they've spent," Soglin said last week by telephone. "Uber has basically bought the conference."
The 70-year-old liberal Democrat has spent his eighth term as Madison's mayor waging a lonely battle against Uber and Lyft, companies he describes as "antithetical to equity and fairness."
In late March, Madison enacted a strict law that would ban surge pricing and require app-hailed ride companies to acquire locally issued permits and provide 24-hour service — just like regular taxis. That win over world-beating Uber lasted only a few weeks before Madison's law was pre-empted by the state Legislature, which passed weaker regulations — and banned municipalities from enacting their own rules.
Soglin rejects such state intrusion. He's pushing the USCoM to endorse local control, and to "call upon Uber, Lyft, and their competitors, to cease and halt all operations in municipalities until such time that they are properly regulated and licensed pursuant to law."
This is Soglin's second try. Last year, a similar resolution was withdrawn due to what he calls "parliamentary procedure trickery" prompted by Uber and Lyft.
"They don't give money to politicians directly," he said, "but they find out what is dear to their hearts and write checks."
The organizers of the conference did not respond to requests for comment. Both Uber and Lyft officials say their companies were members of the USCoM before Soglin introduced his resolution, but neither would divulge how much money they have donated to sponsor this year's event.
Soglin claims the companies have paid in the "high six figures."
As of now, Soglin is the lone mayor trying to stand up to the app-hail companies. And he isn't likely to encounter a sympathetic host in Mayor Ed Lee. Lee's office did not respond to a request for comment, but the mayor has been complimentary of "innovative rideshare companies."
He's also allowed San Francisco to take a hands-off approach towards San Francisco-based Uber and Lyft, letting the state Public Utilities Commission come up with Transportation Network Company regulations.
Uber's dominance in its hometown won't stop Soglin from enjoying his trip to San Francisco. He's been riding BART for 40 years. And if he needs to, he'll call a cab.