Uber-tarianism: A Modest Proposal

Uber — the best known of several ride-sharing companies that run an app that allows passengers to use smart phones to find drivers for hire and pay them with credit cards — is now worth more than $40 billion dollars.

By contrast, the value of taxi medallions is dropping in major cities, faced with the competition from Uber, Lyft (valued at $2.5 billion), and the other ride share upstarts are providing.  In New York City, for example,  taxi revenues are dropping almost 10 percent annually.

Uber et al have a lot of advantages over the traditional taxi cabs: generally lower prices; the certainty of knowing you’ve hired a ride share vehicle and it is actually coming to you, as opposed to attempting to hail a cab; and being able to contract for and pay for a ride without the rider knowing your race, radically reducing the racial discrimination against black consumers well known to African Americans and regularly depicted in American comedy.

It’s capitalism and free markets abolishing racism and bigotry and making people wealthier by giving them more options and lower prices. As capitalism does.

Lobbyists working for the taxi companies have struck back, attempting to get politicians including New York Mayor Bill De Blasio to outlaw Uber and the others; and Hillary Clinton has made warnings about the “gig economy” part of her campaign.

Part of the campaign is using a PR megaphone to amplify and repeat any anecdotes about sexual assaults that have occured in Uber cars, particularly those where drivers assault a passenger. These stories are anecdotal however, and it is hard to compare sexual assault, and crime generally, across different transportation providers, in part because police don’t collect and categorize the incidents that way.

An internet search will turn up stories about rapes in taxi cabs as well, despite the supposedly more thorough background checks of their drivers. The DC Metro system now budgets tax dollars on a PR campaign asking passengers to report sexual harassment – apparently they are betting Bill Clinton will be moving back into the White House. (On the much less populated L.A. subway, the L.A.Times reports that one in 5 riders reports “unwanted sexual behavior,” and one in 14 says they have been groped.)

I myself, pretty obviously not female, in several decades of only very occasionally taking a D.C. taxicab or Metrobus, have had one taxicab driver suggest he offered additional services, and one bus driver smile broadly and adjust his wares as I got on a late night bus in a rather suggestive move that was so unexpected it didn’t register until minutes after I had sat down. I am assuming these things happen to women more often.

But the rape scare mongering is just the jury tampering.

The anti-Uber pogrom has gone beyond the taxi lobbyists and corrupt taxi commissions and been picked up by the labor movement and the Democrat Party’s statist establishment as a way to strike out against any opportunities for work that can’t be subjected to the with-holding tax – the federal government’s free loan program to itself – and that can’t be easily unionized. Shannon Liss-Riordan, a Boston labor lawyer who specializes in attacking independent contractors, is suing Uber to have all Uber drivers reclassified as employees. She plans to stuff Uber drivers, and young entrepreneurial Hansels and Gretels in general, into her statist oven. (Who will be feasting? According to OpenSecrets FEC records, Ms. Liss-Riordan donated about $15,000 to Barack Obama, Elizabeth Warren, and Joe Kennedy in 2012-2013 alone.)

These obviously serious issues don’t require outlawing Uber, as the taxi lobbies want. Uber can make its application procedure stricter at anytime, and will do so as soon if anyone sues it for damages – just as many apartment buildings now do criminal background checks on applicants in an effort at due diligence to indemnify themselves if it turns out someone sues them for letting in a pedophile or rapist as a resident.

Less discuss some even weightier issues.

Bike Lanes. Perhaps you are ecologically minded, morally superior to both the Ubertarians and the Taxi cronyists.  Or perhaps in the Obama depression you just can’t afford to buy or repair an automobile. You are happy some cities have added bike lanes that you can use on downtown streets, just for you, where you don’t threaten pedestrians – especially dog walkers with 3 or more leashed dogs all running in different directions – and cars don’t threaten you.

You are familiar with government vehicles, delivery vans, and construction trucks parking in your bike lane, and maybe even an Uber or a taxi double parking in it for a disembarking customer. But the Uber driver will never park in the parking lane and have his Uber driver friend stand in your bike lane so they can chit chat – it’s his or her second job and they are trying to make money, not kibbutz with their friends. Taxi drivers on the other hand seem to park in lines where they think people will be emerging from hotels etc. needing a taxi, and they get out and stand around and talk – in the bike lanes.

Corruption.  All kidding aside, this is the real issue. The taxi industry, as it exists now, in almost all cities has been a regulated oligopoly or monopoly paying off politicians or their staffs as well as taxi commission members to limit competition and thereby keep prices higher, in exchange for donations, bribes and kickbacks.

The reason local cities are ruled by statist Democrats who keep their populations unemployed, in poverty, and illiterate (so they will continue to vote for Democrats), is that powerful economic interests keep the Democrats in power. Real estate developers are part of the mix – D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton rakes in donations of $200,000-400,000 each election, to run unopposed, mainly from construction unions and real estate developers (one year she got around $40,000 from a single New York-based development firm), and she sits on the Congressional committees that dispense federal leases and federal land parcels in D.C. (No journalists ever investigate this.)

Another part of the mix is government “teachers” unions, that donate heavily to Democratic candidates who oppose school choice and who aim to lock poor children into failing schools in exchange for campaign donations. Finally there are the taxi commissions, which have long been bribing local Democrats to keep fares high by restricting competition and new transport providers. The results:  Baltimore, Anacostia, Ferguson – tinderboxes of poverty and hopelessness.

Some cities have changed a little as reform minded yuppie Democrats have moved into urban areas. Charter school movements are sweeping some cities. In Washington, D.C. the voters in newly the newly gentrified Columbia Heights neighborhood tossed out an incumbent, the city’s first elected gay city Council member, Jim Graham, in the 2014 Democratic primary, in part because one of his staffers was prosecuted for taxi commission related bribes. (Graham himself, now a private sector citizen, is now in favor of deregulating taxis and Uber.) Washington City Paper dubbed this new species of left-liberal urban Democrats that want free markets and consumer choice in any area important to themselves, from their car service to their children’s education, “Ubertarians.”

We need to end taxis, taxi commissions, and taxi medallions just to clean up our politics and get rid of politicians who are willing to prevent the progress and innovation and free entry into markets that creates new jobs and new wealth.

Yes those who have invested in taxis and taxi medallions will lose hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars. It doesn’t matter. They can make money driving for Uber, just as the plantation owners of old could learn to pick their own cotton.


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