A call for heroic humility on Lyft, Uber regulation

August 26, 2014

Trent England

Actions speak louder than words. Many people in Oklahoma City are, by their actions, crying out in favor of new transportation choices like Uber and Lyft.

Sadly, where the rest of the world sees exciting innovation, regulators see a problem.

Today, Oklahoma City’s City Council will consider how much smarter they think they are than everybody else. Will they leave consumers free to choose? Will they leave Uber and Lyft drivers free to work?

Instead of crafting a “compromise” or looking for some “middle way,” the Council should do nothing. They can let the experiment play out in Oklahoma City, choosing to learn rather than to dictate.

People remain free to ride in taxis, after all, and many still do. In fact, given the price of taxi licenses (called “medallions”) in Boston and New York, the idea that Uber and Lyft will put taxis out of business may simply be wrong—the car services seem to be drawing new people into the car-for-hire market rather than just cannibalizing taxi business.

It has also become clear that these new services are not unsafe. Uber and Lyft are well insured, and both services already background check their drivers (Lyft provides helpful comparison charts for San Francisco and Kansas City). Because of the two-way feedback built into both Uber and Lyft, these unregulated alternatives may actually be safer than highly regulated taxis.

On the other hand, consider the safety record of taxis. Regulators love to dwell on their own good intentions, but what matters are results. Just a few recent headlines….

· Livery Cab Driver Arrested After Bicyclist Killed In East Harlem

· Taxi Driver Charged with Raping Victim Inside Cab in Sussex County

· Taxi driver charged with DUI

· Second taxi driver arrested in sexual attack in Santa Cruz County

· Taxi driver charged with sexually assaulting two passengers

· Cab driver among five arrested in Carson City drug bust

Government rules, it seems, do not safeguard the public so well as those within government no doubt would like. Perhaps there are better ways. Maybe services like Uber and Lyft can do better? Why stand in the way, or throw down hurdles?

That some Oklahoma City residents are choosing a new way to get around is hardly a crisis calling out for government intervention. It is, however, an opportunity for the City Council to do something of heroic humility—nothin