You may have seen the ads for Lyft recently, “make up to $20.00 an hour giving people a ride.” I actually thought this would be a good way to make a few extra dollars in my spare time and meet a few people. I enjoyed delivering pizza; working as a transitory taxi driver would be as fun I thought.
Well, the city of Madison Wisconsin has deflated this balloon. In response to the Lyft drivers working within the city limits, the city of Madison has fired on the new economy by using an undercover police officer to obtain a ride from a Lyft driver, and then promptly cited the driver for several violations of city ordinances; the costs of these citations amounting to over $1,300.00.
Americans are Hurting
I don’t know anyone who is doing great these days. The Great Recession has left us damaged and scared that we are not as well off as we once thought we were. Many Americans are struggling in today’s part time economy and are turning to any way possible to make a few extra dollars. Lyft is but one of many companies that allow individuals to harness the power of the new underground economy, putting a few extra dollars in one’s pocket.
And despite what the talking heads may say about the job market and the low unemployment rate (at this writing 6.3%), it is tough out there. Just ask one of the long-term unemployed, a college student, or a senior who is looking for work. People have to be resourceful these days out of necessity, not by choice.
The New Economy is Here to Stay
Despite the best efforts of Madison officials, the economy is shifting to the underground. While barter still has a place in the world today, computers and smart phones are taking the underground economy to the next level. Need a place to stay or leaving your house for a vacation? Airbnb facilitates finding you a home or renting out your house. Amazon allows you to shed those unwanted college books, CD’s and basically have garage sales online, without ever stepping outside of your house. Mobee lets you work undercover checking out the efficiency, friendliness and cleanliness of restaurants.
I don’t know many people getting rich of the underground economy. But, I know a lot of people who are working hard to make ends meet using the underground economy. The underground economy has been born out of necessity. Everyone I know is struggling to hold their head above water. No one I know is getting rich. We are going to the underground economy because we have to.
With Madison officials citing the Lyft driver they are effectively declaring war on the new economy. Capt. Richard Bach of the Madison Police Department was quoted by the local paper, the State Journal, as saying, “There needed to be enforcement action taken to send a message that the city was not going to tolerate their operation without licensing.”
If Madison officials are going to go after Lyft drivers, are they also going to go after everyone selling on Amazon, renting homes with Airbnb, and even stoop to citing the local kids who are mowing their neighbor’s grass? Since I did a secret shop for Mobee in the City of Madison (where I learned of this transgression), am I now a wanted person by these Machiavellian inspired city officials?
Lyft to the Rescue
Lyft, to their credit, has offered to cover the legal expenses of their driver that was cited in Madison. And, this is very important. If the city of Madison prevails with this case, it could set a dangerous precedent for everyone who is making money off the underground economy. Case law could be established here in this case that could ripple across the country. City officials in America could now cite the Madison case and begin requiring everyone who is making a few extra dollars on the side to obtain business permits and register with their respective cities. Or, risk prosecution for trying to make those few extra dollars.
Let us hope Lyft and their driver will prevail in this case. No one should go to jail for trying to feed their family. We will leave that sad tale to Victor Hugo and his Les Miserables.