Taxi cab regulators in reverse

In Opinion
Courtesy of MCT

Ever since the invention of the wheel, technological innovation has been synonymous with progress. In the case of a new taxi-hailing app, however, bureaucratic greed is attempting to halt progress for the sake of making more money.

At the center of the whole issue is Uber, an app that connects customers directly with car service companies. Cab drivers who agree to work with Uber receive free iPhones that allow them to locate people who are requesting a ride through the app.

It comes as no major surprise that this app has ruffled some feathers with traffic regulators around the country. The notion of cutting out needless middle men is apparently not too appealing to said men-in-the-middle. Vehicle processing centers are completely cut out of the equation thanks to this app, and that’s a lot of money out of the pockets of people who have been taking advantage of a hole in communication up to this point.

Uber is currently facing legal battles with San Francisco and Chicago, and is dealing with a $20,000 fine from the California Public Utilities Commission.

It’s easier to appreciate the absurdity of this situation if we reduce it down to a more simple picture. Imagine that there’s a river that everybody would like to cross over, but nobody has the materials to build a bridge. At some point, a conniving troll takes a rotting log and lays it across the river, letting people pass if they pay him. Eventually, a craftsman gets the materials he needs and builds a beautiful bridge, allowing everyone to pass for free.

In this situation, the troll has essentially beaten up the craftsman and ordered him to tear down his bridge, because it is interfering with the “business operation” already in place.

In the end, it just looks like a corporate entity throwing a tantrum because they’re no longer relevant. Only in today’s society would this happen without massive eyebrow raising from the public. Some of our (considerably) older readers might remember the days of switchboard operators, who connected incoming calls to the correct extension.

Obviously enough, we are well beyond the days of telephone operators at this point. What’s more, there wasn’t an enormous corporate hissy fit when the time came to get rid of them, either. You won’t find the Great Operator Uprising of the 1960s in any textbook. That’s because people acted rationally about it; they realized that they had become outmoded thanks to the development of technology, and gracefully took their place within the annals of history.

We can only cling to the bureaucracies of old for so long before it starts to look ridiculous. Imagine if carriage drivers had filed lawsuits against the makers of the first automobile, or if future flying cars are sued for being able to fly over toll booths.

Making a big deal about an app like this sends a message; the vehicle processing companies refusing to let go on this issue is like saying “it’s okay for technology to advance, but let’s not get too crazy here.”

Societal and technological progress should not be held back the personal and business interests of greedy individuals who have situated themselves in the gaps that technology has yet to fill. Advancement in technology allows us to streamline our society, to make it neater, cleaner and more straightforward.

To cling to an outdated system and create glaring inconsistencies between what we could be doing and what we actually do, just so some companies can rake in more cash, is the epitome of pettiness.

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  • Spoken like a true student with no real life or business experience. Uber came to “play” in the transportation industry. They take NO responsibility for their actions, unlike the established industries in which they came to play. They disregard rules and regulations and the public safety. I like to think as Uber as a new tax preparer service. One that will fill out the tax forms as they see fit and screw the IRS as they are old school… Maybe this student has never filled out a tax form and would not understand this……

  • Joe Rubino

    Mr. Winslow seems like a naive young man who has done little research on this subject. To a person like Mr. Winslow, the facts are really irrelevant since he has already come to his conclusion, which is “Smart techie guys good, stupid taxi slugs bad.”

    If Mr. Winslow has actually done some research on this subject he would see that the taxi industry is as technologically advanced as any other. Most major companies have been using computerized dispatch for many years, and their computers use GPS/AVL devices to automatically find the closest cab and dispatch. And every major taxi company is now using a legitimate mobile app that works WITH the company and the industry.

    The argument from the taxicab industry has not been about technology but about a level playing field. Taxi companies, like any regulated business, have to conform to all types of state and local regulations, including licensing for their company, their drivers, and their vehicles. Drivers and employees are subject to drug and background testing, then pay heavy insurance premiums, and have many other expenses like driver training, physical plant, vehicle maintenance and so on. These things are all in place to protect the public. After all, how do we know that UBER will not help to create the next Craigslist scandal, when some rogue, unregulated and unchecked driver starts preying on his passengers. Think it won’t happen? Are you will to take that chance?

    But apart from the danger inherent in UBER’s anonymous driver issue, their business model is grossly unfair to the regulated taxicab industry, who has all the expense and regulatory compliance mentioned above. Here is an analogy for the unfairness. What would happen if there was a popular restaurant in town with people on the sidewalk every night waiting for tables. One night, a kiosk on wheels pulls up on the curb and started selling tacos, wraps, sandwiches, pizzas….whatever it was that the restaurant sold. The kiosk operators then opened up dozens of chairs and tables, spread them out on the sidewalk and in the restaurant’s parking lot and invited the people to sit down and dine under the stars right in front of this restaurant. The kiosk has no business license, no operating permit, had not been inspected by city inspectors or food regulators, had paid no liability insurance, and certainly had no right to the curb and sidewalk in front of the restaurant.

    Ask yourself, would the owner of the restaurant be annoyed with this unlicensed interloper squatting on his property and taking his business? After all, the restaurant owner paid the mortgage for that building, paid the taxes, paid for the insurance, and paid for all the other costs of doing business, including the marketing and advertising to get people to come to that spot. Do you think that having the unlicensed kiosk on his doorstep, taking his customers away from him is fair?

    Well guess what, that kiosk is UBER.

  • Our company, Luxor Cab of San Francisco, has been an early adopter of technology for 80 years. We quickly recognized the opportunities in telephone technology, and adopted two-way radio decades before that technology became standard in taxicabs. We embraced computerized dispatching in the late 90s when that was still “new stuff,” and we introduced the excellent TaxiMagic app to San Francisco taxi riders years before we ever heard of Uber. We continue to welcome a steady stream of young app developers who stop by looking for insight into the taxi industry.

    Please don’t compare us to a troll with a rotten log!

    It is significant that the recent CPUC $20,000 fines against Uber and other unlicensed operators cite safety violations. You should not have to take a for-hire operator’s word for it that the vehicles are insured and the drivers properly vetted. Let them prove it to public transportation regulators just like licensed operators do.

  • yermom72

    Are you nuts? Uber is the troll here… and their service is not “free”! By cherry-picking fares from the cab industry, they undermine the public utility provided by taxis, threatening the existence of transportation for everyone — all for the benefit of the rich few.

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