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May 11, 2016

Only Government Could Oppose Ride-Sharing

 

Like many business travelers, over the past couple of years I have used Uber for many of my transportation needs. And as a policy person, I’ve observed the phenomenon closely. I almost always ask my Uber drivers why they drive for Uber and how much they like it. I’ve never had a negative answer—in fact, the drivers are almost always enthusiastic. Some work full time, while others are trying to hustle a little extra cash to get out of credit card debt or help their children pay for college. In those situations, it’s wonderful to not be dependent on someone else hiring you, and it’s great to be able to set and adjust your own hours.

One day while on the Uber website making changes to my account, I saw the “Drive for Uber” button at the top of the page. I clicked, mostly out of curiosity. Then the idea hit me: Why not do a little research driving, so instead of writing about a policy issue from an “ivory tower,” I could experience it firsthand? So I signed up.

Driving a few weekends for Uber, I discovered that passengers are as enthusiastic as drivers. Many cities and most suburbs are taxi deserts, and the Uber option is actually a new, attractive, parking-free option. Suburbanites use it to get to sporting events, concerts, and just to nights out for dinner. They don’t have to bother with a transaction, and because of the rating system they know their driver has an incentive to be professional, as do they.

Drivers and passengers are wildly enthusiastic about ride sharing. Who could oppose a new service that is universally loved by its participants? Government, of course—especially government at its worst. 

One of the most despicable things government does is act as a protection racket for certain companies or industries. “Pay us fees and let us regulate you,” government says, “and we’ll limit your competition through medallions, licensing requirements and quotas.” Of course, cities always claim the mantle of “consumer safety” to justify these protection rackets, but it’s really about businesses getting into bed with government power to limit or outright eliminate their competition. 

Unfortunately, some cities insist on maintaining their corrupt cartels with taxi companies, even at the cost of depriving their residents of valuable and convenient services like Uber and Lyft. Austin, Texas, recently made this mistake. Because the states have an interest in protecting the freedom of their residents and the economic vitality of their state economies, states should consider legislation that preempts municipalities from restricting ride-sharing services. As we have argued before, local control is not a trump card that allows municipalities to restrict economic freedom.


 

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