Uber and Lyft have been creating quite the uproar recently in Houston politics, openly challenging the current regulations for taxis and private cars. It seems that taxi operators are concerned that Uber will undercut their fares and drive them out of business. However, there is also concern with Uber’s “price gouging” by charging more at peak business times. I see no reason for these fears, but I do think it is important that we review how these companies operate to ensure the safety of those who use them.
First of all, I’ve had very good experiences with Uber in other cities. You simply enter your destination in the Uber app; and it tells you exactly how much the fare will be, when your driver will arrive and charges the fare to your credit card upon arrival at your destination. When you reach your destination you say thank you and step out of the car. In my opinion, this system is infinitely better than that of traditional cabs.
Uber simply provides a new means of dispatching cars to drive you to your destination. Many of the same regulations that apply to taxi drivers can be applied to Uber cars, as they operate in very similar manners. We can enforce background checks and other conventional safety requirements just as we do now. However, the main argument arises around whether taxi prices should be regulated. If more people are requesting taxis on holidays, I think it is fair to charge higher prices to reflect this increased demand. This does not mean that it will cost $500 to get a cab to drive 5 blocks. By deregulating the price of taxis, we would simply allow the price to move marginally, and will in fact make it cheaper to get a cab when demand is low.
Treating taxis like a public utility that must be rigidly regulated would be akin to treating the grocery store like a public utility. Both provide necessary goods, yet we do not regulate the grocery store’s pricing. It has been proven numerous times in history that rigid pricing does not in fact solve the problem of ensuring equal access to necessary goods and services, and I do not believe that this socialist view is appropriate in the case of the provision of taxis either.
There should be no reason to fear progress when it comes to something like transportation. Uber is simply taking the traditional cab operation and making it applicable in today’s society. There is even a beta program in which customers can request Uber to dispatch a traditional taxi to their location, instead of one of Uber’s other more expensive options. In essence, Uber is just trying to add options to make transportation easier and more convenient, and we should not stifle progress just because it threatens to shake the status quo. It is important though, that City Hall establish its point of view quickly on the matter so that regulations can be instated for these new companies to adopt.