Good Government

Uniform State Rules Make Sense for Uber, Lyft

March 31, 2015

Jonathan Small, Trent England

No one would accept “local control” as a defense of government corruption. The purpose of government is justice—when one part of government forgets that, we look to another to step in.

Sometimes the line between out-and-out corruption and self-serving regulations is blurry. Just look at the fight over new, technology-driven car services like Uber and Lyft.

If a city official accepts money from one group of businesses in exchange for shutting out their competition, those acts would constitute bribery and abuse of power. Yet if the same city official receives political support from those same businesses and then crafts regulations that hinder their competition, what then? The politician might even self-servingly believe he or she is just trying to keep ignorant citizens from making risky choices.

In Oklahoma City, many of the officials involved in adopting regulations targeted at Uber and Lyft admitted they never even tried those services for themselves. Unsurprisingly, the city’s new rules fail to recognize the dramatic difference between taxi services and what is offered by the high-tech upstarts.

Now the Oklahoma legislature is weighing in, considering House Bill 1614, which would establish uniform regulations for companies like Uber and Lyft across all of Oklahoma. Opponents say the idea violates “local control.” Of course, what they really want is just control.

In our constitutional system, the state is the primary level of government. Oklahoma’s state legislators have a duty to stand up for citizens against federal overreach. They have the same duty to stand up for citizens against abuses by local governments (we have written similarly about city regulations targeting oil and gas businesses).

“Local control” is often the right way to make and carry out public policy. In this instance, however, establishing statewide uniform rules for services like Uber and Lyft is the best way to expand transportation options for all Oklahomans.