EspañolSixty-three-year-old Stephanie is the “Uber grandma,” New Hampshire’s new star activist. After Portsmouth police fined her in October for violating an ordinance designed to ban Uber, the ride-sharing app, she refused a plea deal during a court citation on December 7.
Portsmouth charged her with four violations of the city’s transportation ordinance. She allegedly failed to register with the city, submit a criminal background check, and provide a proof of commercial insurance before she could drive with Uber. Stephanie says she is innocent — and is taking the city to trial.
Undeterred by harassment, she also continues her work for Uber clients after her day job as a bus driver.
PanAm Post talked with Stephanie about the accusations, her plans, and the ongoing fight between disruptive ride-sharing apps and the taxi cartels.
How are you coming to grips with your new celebrity status?
It is a little scary. Like I said, when I signed up to try Uber I never knew that anything like this could ever happen. I am not doing this just for me, I am doing it for all Uber users around the world.
I think we should stand up for our rights.
I believe in free enterprise. I believe that governments shouldn’t govern as much as they do.
Taxi cartels have taken an aggressive stance against people choosing an alternative.
If they would have been providing the services that they were originally supposed to be providing, there would be no problem with Uber. If they were doing what they were supposed to be doing, Uber wouldn’t be in business.
What is the problem with taxis?
I think they should have a rating system like Uber. I’ve never driven in a taxi so I can’t say they are dirty or anything about the drivers. I can say what my customers are saying, and Uber is filling a spot in the vacancy that they are leaving.
Please describe the response you are receiving from the public
Mostly everybody I know who has driven with me, and people I know who have not driven with me, are very supportive. People, those I have no idea who they are, are expressing their support via the Free Uber Facebook page. It is really strange for me to be in this position.
How confident are you that you will prevail and Portsmouth residents will be able to use Uber?
I think we will prevail. I think there are more people than what the city realizes who are supportive of Uber. There is a change in government coming in the beginning [of 2016] and I think those changes will be requested in favor of Uber. I guess we will have to see what happens.
What exactly is your legal situation now?
I pled not guilty to the charges that were brought against me. They really did not summon me for driving in Portsmouth, but what they summoned me for was not displaying a legal placard and contracting with a private citizen to travel, to give them a ride.
One ticket is for failure to display signing.
What is your family saying about this?
My friends have asked me why I don’t do something else or why don’t I drive somewhere else, where I don’t have to deal with this problem. But I just love Portsmouth so much; I feel safe driving in Portsmouth. I’m up to 4:30 in the morning sometimes driving, and I really never had any problems whatsoever.
Do you feel you are writing history with this case?
It could be. I think there is going to be a paradigm shift in how things are done and I think the Uber app is a base for that.
I don’t know much about history, but I think I’m a small part of what can happen.
By Tomás Leiva Lèrou EspañolLast month, a massive case of collusion within the Chilean toilet-paper industry hit the headlines of major newspapers across the country. Two companies which dominate a large chunk of the toilet-paper sector decided to join forces and fix prices, sparking a heated debate within Chilean society. As expected, state authorities decided that the best solution was to enact more regulation, increasing the bureaucratic burden on the business sector and handing more power to politicians. As a liberal, however, I'm not really too concerned about the so-called collusion between these two companies, since there are several brands available on the market, and new firms can always emerge. First of all, it is worth clarifying that a "collusion" is just a voluntary contract between two or more parties — a practice that a group of politicians want to see banned. Now, people tend to consider it an abuse when a group of businessmen decide to raise prices, and particularly when they are coordinated. On the other hand, when they drop prices, they rarely make it to the front page. Obviously, it's their duty to lower prices for consumers, right? In the case of collusion over toilet paper, consumers were forced to pay more, and that had an impact on their budgets. However, what has happened with the price of cars over the past few decades? And with home appliances? How much have clothing prices dropped? How many people have benefited from Chinese imports? In reality, the duty of an entrepreneur is to make his business as profitable as possible. Legal Collusion What is more worrying is the collusion in the public sector, where competition is nonexistent and even prohibited. Despite the abuse that can arise from these sorts of situations, only the state is allowed to participate in certain markets. Take, for example, the Chilean Civil Registry, where employers last November colluded to stop serving the public, because the government denied their request for a bonus. Imagine the huge lines that resulted, the 10-hour delay to pick up your national ID card or to get a marriage license. Think about the parents who were forced to wait to register their newborns with the state, or those who needed a death certificate to proceed to bury a loved one. I don't want to pass judgement on the employees of the Civil Registry, headed by Nelly Díaz, or their reasons for the strike. However, while the quarrel was between the employees and the government, the Chilean public had to deal with the consequences. And, to make matters worse, they're planning another strike, which will surely cause more delays. This sort of action should definitely be considered collusion, and certainly a much more serious kind of collusion than within the toilet-paper industry. [adrotate group="8"] When will we see the Civil Registry privatized? When state employees decide to stop working, will citizens ever have an alternative? When will the government finally delegate to the private sector these services? When will the worst abuser of all, the state, stop causing problems in our society? Tailor-Made Rules? In a free society, special rules should not be drafted to benefit consumers nor businesses. The rules should be designed so that both parties are free to engage, or not engage, in voluntary exchange. More regulation is not the solution. When politicians get involved, businesses then have an incentive to start funneling money under the table to get legislation that favors them. How else do you think a small group of pharmacies dominates the entire market? How have our forestry companies reached the "too big too fail" stage? Why give more power to politicians who have not earned our trust? Big businesses may collude to fix prices, but as long as we have an open market, without entry or exit barriers, new businesses can always come in and lower the price. On the other hand, when it comes to services provided by the state, the public has no choice but to be trampled on. It's time to put an end to this double standard and condemn the collusion that takes place in the public sector, including collusion between the government and big business, which hate competition and only hope for more regulation in their favor. Tomás Leiva Lèrou is the cofounder of Sector Privado, a social organization dedicated to promoting property rights through street activism. Follow @Tomasleivalerou. Translated by Adam Dubove.