One helpful outcome when particular controversies arise over regulation is that statements of principle and assumption emerge that offer a common-sense check. So, as taxi companies sue to impose regulations on the ride-sharing service Uber — rather than advocating to have the regulations under which they, themselves, must operate eased (go figure) — we get statements like this:
Echoing a larger global fight over ride-hailing services, the taxis argue that under Rhode Island law any driver or company providing for-hire automobile rides must comply with the stringent regulations enforced by the Public Utilities Division.
“None of them do, and all of the services provided by Uber and Uber drivers are therefore illegal,” the lawsuit says. “This massive illegal operation puts the public and consumers at risk and erodes the viability of licensed, authorized and legal taxicab operators.”
In what particular ways do ride-sharing services “put the public and consumers at risk”? The cars could be in bad repair or with some sort of health issue or infestation. The driver might have mental issues. Who knows? The world is an unpredictable place.
But if freelance cars through Uber really offer an inferior or dangerous service, shouldn’t taxi drivers be able to compete? Couldn’t there be a national certification that they, themselves, could promote through Uber or by setting up a competing app?
Special interests like to talk about their concern for the consumer, but they treat them as if they aren’t really people, as if we’re all just drones who won’t make any decisions but will slide right into a filthy, smoking wreck of a car driven by a guy in a hockey mask just because an unregulated app brought it to the curb. If consumers aren’t drones, then shouldn’t it be relatively easy for the clean cab with a national certification and a friendly driver to charge a little bit more and put the scary guy out of business?
Of course, that would mean the taxi company would have to compete with drivers and with technology, and the reality is that the ride-sharing service isn’t a nightmare. That’s why the established companies are scared.