Leave Uber’s fate to Dallas passengers, not City HallCommentary by John C Goodman
September 18, 2013
Source: Dallas Morning News, Dallasnews.com
Say I need a ride to the airport. I can tap an icon on my cellphone and a car will arrive, usually within five minutes.
I normally take whatever vehicle is available, and that's most likely a black Town Car. But if I have several passengers with me and we have a lot of luggage, I can order a van. A map appears on my cellphone and I can actually see the car's avatar as it wends its way in my direction. I'm continuously updated on the expected time of arrival.
Despite the marvels of modern technology, GPS is not always perfect. The car might arrive at the back of a hotel, while I'm standing at the front. So I tap another icon that puts me in telephone contact with the driver. That way I can communicate my location orally.
When the car arrives, it's clean. The air conditioner works. And it doesn't reek of whatever the driver had for lunch. The driver opens the door for me as I enter and exit the vehicle. He addresses me by my name, which he learns electronically when I order the service. And he has probably undergone a far more thorough background check than the driver of a garden-variety taxicab.
When we arrive at my destination, billing is automatic. I don't have to worry about whether I need a credit card or cash. No worrying about what is an appropriate tip. Within minutes after my arrival, an email message tells me how much I owe and asks me to approve the charge. It also asks me to grade the service on a five-point star system.
Normally the charge will be from 20 percent to 50 percent more than a taxicab fare. Most of the time I think the service is worth it. If it's a short haul and a regular taxi is handy, I might take the cab. Competition and choice. That's the beauty of the free market.
The company that provides the service I am describing is called Uber. It is rapidly expanding to cities across the country. The public loves it.
Who wouldn't love it?
Taxicab companies, it turns out. They seem to think they deserve a monopoly on local transportation. Then there is Dallas City Hall. City Hall? Yes, in Dallas that's everyone from members of the City Council to the city manager to the police chief. These supposed public servants are acting as if they are on the payroll of Yellow Cab.
An investigative report by The Dallas Morning News last Sunday reveals how far all this has gone. As part of the local campaign against Uber, the police used undercover passengers to try to detect insurance and licensing violations. They discovered none. Then the police issued 36 citations, claiming Uber cars were violating local ordinances. Those issues are now in court.
If the Police Department devoted as much time and ingenuity to the pursuit of common criminals, think how much safer Dallas would be.
That brings us to the public policy question: In a city that touts the benefit of free enterprise, why are we regulating automobile transportation services at all?
Did you know it's illegal for you to haul your neighbor to work in return for a fee? It's also illegal for you to arrange carpooling services for a fee. Or to take people to the airport. Or to transport people from South Dallas to a job site in North Dallas. Or to bring them back home after work.
If there is a legitimate role for government in this market, it's certification, not regulation. Let the city government monitor the car services and make public its findings. Publish in the newspaper statistics on traffic accidents, price gouging, customer satisfaction and other pertinent information.
Then let the rest of us make our own choices.