We are confused sometimes by government directives. We have become used to freeways with special privilege carpool lanes for instance, promoting using less gas. We got that, sitting there in our bumper-to-bumper crawl lanes watching two or three cars whiz by in the empty carpool lanes. But now, government is squashing another sort of ride sharing at an increasing rate.
A recent story about ride sharing’ apps Uber and Lyft illustrates our quandary. Who, outside Manhattan and the City of London, uses taxis? Have you ever called a cab in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley or from an Albuquerque suburb? Taxis are a government license monopoly, serving primarily, transport hubs. No cab company has managed to provide general service competing with bus companies. But Uber and Lyft have, using the Internet. The taxi folk don’t like the competition and by appearances, neither does government..
With their app on your phone, you call for a ride and an Uber or Lyft driver comes and takes you where you wish to be, for an agreed fee. And you can serve as a driver and make some money should you wish. They call it: “Ride sharing” rather than business. And spurred by taxi companies and unions, cities are quashing it.
In the story linked above, Tampa is opposing the program, New York City is doing it too. So are Albuquerque and others. London cabbies set up a huge protest. They call this unfair competition; Uber and Lyft drivers have no fleets, special fees and taxes or other costly overhead to drive their prices upward. The poor cabfolk are screwed. Outlaw the upstarts!But let’s consider for a bit:
Why are there cabs in the first place? To haul us around at need when the bus won’t do, right? And to benefit more than the wealthy who don’t need it, rides must be as cheap as possible. Competitive rates gives you that, present regulated cab rates ok’d by politicians, don’t. Some of those cab fares end up as political contributions, no? And taxi licenses are costly in a lot of places and can be hard to obtain unless you know or pay off someone.The summing up is: The governments’ taxi monopoly scheme is good for the politicians. Not so good for the public. Uber and Lyft are the other way around. And if the cabbies think ride sharing is unfair, they can adopt the format. The present format will vanish and the public well see better service, cheaper. Economists call it: “Creative Destruction.”
So we end with two questions, one old, one new. The old one: should government protect any public service businesses? There is much to consider: How many businesses do you want to see tearing up the streets? And the new question: Should businesses like taxis benefit the politicians or the public? If you go for the public weal, Uber and Lyft are a godsend that can revive a moribund taxi industry, improve service greatly and reduce prices while doing it. Unless of course, this baby is strangled in its crib at the behest of the unions and cabfolk.
While watching local government ‘helping’ local transportation as it deals with Uber and Lyft (Why can’t it just leave them alone for a while?) we might also find some useful conclusions about the government in Washington D.C. and the national economy.