Currently viewing the tag: "Taxis"
Not me, but a brave Uber "driver" in a "driverless" car.

Not me, but a brave Uber “driver” in a “driverless” car.

Gizmodo’s weekend editor Rhett Jones made this childish attempt to impugn Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto for having the brains to welcome Uber to Pittsburgh, for 80 years the worst taxicab town in America.

Late breaking semi-correction: My tech savvier daughter Lucy claims Gizmodo had my comment hidden somewhere, which still makes my point.

Here, as part of my unpaid media crusade to defend Uber against its moronic “progressive” enemies, is my comment, which Gizmodo’s child editors did not see fit to approve:

Pittsburghers were abused for 80 years by a regulated taxicab monopoly that offered terrible “service,” charged some of the highest fares in the country, wouldn’t go into poor or black neighborhoods, refused short trips, put decrepit and smelly cabs on the street (used cop cars and ex-NYC cabs with 200k miles on them). The cab monopoly’s politically connected owners got rich.

This horrible cab system was set up by bad state laws that were written to prevent new cabs from starting. (Black people here invented Uber 80 years ago because they had to — older men with big cars that served their community tenderly; they still do and Uber is no threat to them. Jitneys were completely illegal; everyone knew it but cops and regulators left them alone because they served poor people in ways the taxi monopoly did not and could not because there were so few cabs.)

Pittsburgh in the mid 1990s had the fewest number of cabs per capita than any major city. The Yellow Cab monopoly that existed for 80 years would still exist today if Uber hadn’t come along and, as commentators below point out, saved the people of Pittsburgh and given them reliable, plentiful and friendly micro-transit. Uber especially benefited the young, especially the poor, especially the black and most especially young women who never have to be stranded on the South Side at 2 a.m. because their cab wouldn’t come.

Mayor Peduto knew these truths and he not only “discovered” Uber he realized how it would change Pittsburgh for the better, which it has. I’m an ex journalist and Uber driver with 3500 Uber rides under my seatbelt. At least 5000 people have gotten rides from me since January of 2015. Not one complained. I heard at least 500 Yellow Cab horror stories.

Pittsburgh and other cities are no longer captive to government-sanctioned and government-protected and government-coddled cab monopolies. The morons who complain about Uber, or complain when enlightened mayors like Peduto welcome Uber to their town or tell state regulators to back off (a rare thing, because most mayors are in bed with the local cab monopolies), need to grow up, read some history and learn about the cozy relations between regulators and what they regulate.

They need to learn what horrors Uber replaced and why those horrors existed for 80 years before a politician did something about getting rid of them. To complain when a mayor — a liberal Democrat — tells state regulators (who are monopoly taxicab company lovers/protectors) to let Uber operate in the Pittsburgh market is childish and stupid.

Peduto did the right thing for his city and his city’s people. Peduto should get praise for what he did. The fact that Uber is setting up shop here and is expected to bring 500 or 1000 jobs here is icing on the cake. For Gizmodo to spend three electrons whining about Peduto’s relation with Kalanick is pitiful.

Check out my podcast with Reason TV’s Jim Epstein! I asked him about the sharing economy, education policy, cities, and why he’s a filthy, filthy minarchist. (Not so much that last one.)

Also go look at Epstein’s awesome Reason works, particularly his sharing economy article and videos.

Also! Here is kind of fuzzy video of the interview.

It’s in two parts because my Chromebook crashed!

(And then I bought a new laptop.)

Since their founding in 2010, San Francisco-based car service Uber has made advances into more than 30 cities around the world. Staying there, however, is often an uphill slog as they battle regulators and buddies of the taxi or limo industries.

Objections to a service that allows consumers to order a car through a Smartphone app that come from trade groups, regulators, or other anti-capitalist capitalists are’t surprising, though their transparency on occasion is darkly amusing. It’s the objection from the common man, blogger, or journalist that is baffling. Uber, unlike taxis and their fixed rates, changes their prices based on weather, demand, and other logical economic factors. They do this to make the trips worth it for their drivers — thereby preventing a shortage of Uber cars when the demand is high. And that doesn’t mean they’re going to subsidize for those of us who can’t accord to pay $47 for a 2 mile cab ride. They have neither reason, not obligation to do so.

Pricing this honest makes some people unhappy. Indeed, hundreds of dollars for short rides during the recent winter stores, or during New Year’s Eve in New York City sound shocking, but these fares are based on high demand.  There some allegations that consumers weren’t warned ahead of time what the increase might be (though a commenter who professes to be an Uber driver disputes that). If so, that’s not going to win them good press. But most accounts of fare-shock don’t include specific allegations that say they weren’t warned about the jump in prices.

In fact, perhaps to sooth some of the recent backlash against them, just yesterday Uber announced they were experimenting with temporarily lower prices in 16 cities. This means that the price of an UberX car — a less fancy type of vehicle than Uber often sends — in some cities will fall below that of taxis. And taxis, for all their ills, do tend to be pretty cheap rides. The problem tends with them tends to be an almost complete lack of them in certain cities (like Pittsburgh), or a shortage of them made artificial by caps the drivers or on starting a new company all together.

We see it in New York City, where the cab medallions that let customers hail you from the street were capped at 11,000 for 70 years, and there are only a few thousand more today. No wonder they cost as much as condo in New York City. We see it in Pittsburgh, where I have waited for three hours for cabs that didn’t come (waited at a liberal arts college in a nice neighborhood, so let’s go out on a limb and assume minorities in worse neighborhoods don’t bother to call Yellow Cab at all). A few years ago, I drove around for a few hours with a jitney driver(/cartoonist/generally fascinating character). He swore there must be 1000 illegal cabs in the city, mostly serving poor, black neighborhoods, as he does.

The law in Pittsburgh puts the onus on a new, upstart cab company to prove that they won’t take business way from Yellow Cab or which ever company got into the turf first. This makes a mockery of competition, and there’s no way I can think of to sell it as a pro-consumer action, though be my guest if you want to give it a try. Now, I’ve heard people complain about DC cabs, and there are plenty of clunky laws and advocates for worse ones, but coming from Pittsburgh, DC was a joy. I could hail a cab and be in one in five minutes.

Though Uber is currently out of the price range of some poorer folks, railing against their existence is still the privilege of someone with lots of transportation options. Bitching about the convenience-dystopia that Uber is ushering in with the touch of a Smartphone is your prerogative. But like all myopic declarations of how the world should be, the Valleywag piece that said as much neglected to consider the implications of their shitty, no-show cabs paradise. (Valleywag seem to have a bizarrely intense vendetta against Uber, judging by past blogs.) How many of those illegal jitney cabdrivers in Pittsburgh might like to advertise their services and perhaps earn more money by starting a legal company?

It’s hard to argue that multiple cab companies is somehow less safe than hundreds of unmarked cars. Complaints about the standards or the behavior of driver from Purple Cow Cabs can be acted upon by authorities. Whereas, that guy in the unmarked car stole my wallet, tried to assault me, or dropped me on a highway overpass instead of home is a bit harder to follow up on. Similarly, drivers would be safer knowing they can go to police and report robberies or other problems. (Police mostly look the other way about Pittsburgh jitneys, as far as I know, but that’s not the same thing as giving them freedom to advertise their services and grow their business.) Like every other banned substance or service, from sex-for-pay, to narcotics, to abortion, to immigration, transportation happens regardless of restrictions. And like those other “vices”, the safety of those involved in these economic transactions could be heightened by giving people the freedom to work without fear of government crackdown.

So why are so people objecting to Uber? Last month, Slate’s main econ guy Matt Yglesias wrote a surprisingly solid piece on the company, his premise being that yes, they should be regulated, but no more so than regular transports. Emissions, safety, licensing, insurance, and other standards that already apply will apply. Basically:

“You need rules about what’s an acceptable vehicle, who’s an acceptable driver, and what’s an acceptable way to pilot the vehicle.

But you don’t need rules that specifically discriminate against rides for hire.”

Relative to much of humanity and their slack-jawed hunger for more revenue and restrictions, that was a Rothbardian cry of freed markets, ho! Any leftist who has a terror of a world without regulations should at least be able to grant that the ones on taxi cabs are too much. The restrictions favor one business over others at the expense of the consumer, and untold potential entrepreneurs, many of whom are poor minorities or immigrants.

That knowledge is spreading a bit, or at least has become more news-worthy thanks to Uber and its ilk. Even folks with a sad story of Uber surge pricing to tell, like The New York Times’ Annie Lowrey, don’t seem entirely opposed to the company. Lowrey also makes the savvy point that Uber’s painfully honest prices feel particularly bizarre because taxi services have had their prices fixed long before the invention of the car.

On the other hand, pieces like George Mason assistant professor Siona Listokin’s are disheartening. So close, but so wrong; Listokin describes (also in Slate) some of the horrible, stifling, unfair taxi laws currently n existence. And then she writes that Yglesias is wrong about Uber:

[T]here are very good reasons to regulate hired vehicles. Giving my friend a ride somewhere in my car has different economic and social implications for a city than picking up a stranger and driving her someplace for a fee, Uber style. That said, Uber should be regulated differently than other taxi services, for a reason that may seem odd at first: The company collects a plethora of data that has never before existed in the cab industry. For the first time, Uber’s data can allow policymakers to directly measure taxi fares, the availability of cars, and the safety records of drivers without having to control every element of the market. If cities are smart, that could mean better oversight with less regulation.

The entire rest of the piece mixes examples of rubbish laws with a creepy hope that Uber’s data can be used for smart regulations of this industry. Listokin could be a lot worse here, but she could be a hell of a lot better. Her faux-pragmatic call for not less, maybe but definitely better laws, with lots and lots of useful data, will sound good to the people who believe it’s the job of private citizens to ask for permission for every endeavor. (Not ask, why shouldn’t I be free to peacefully pursue this? Prove to me why I shouldn’t be able to do this, etc.)

To Listokin, couldn’t it be argued that since cities all over the country have demonstrated that their regulations are not hands-off, not smart, and not fairly applied among different companies, that it’s time for a change? Let’s do it. Let’s go wild west and let people drive one another two and from destinations for a fee. No Michael Badnarik-esque call to rip up our driver’s licenses, no call to abolish auto insurance, for now can’t we all agree to let people drive each other from point A to point B without rubbing our hands together with glee over what else we can get out of it?