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by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
cabs, car service, dc, disruption, innovation, regulations, taxis


DC Seeks To 'Legalize' Uber... By Forcing It To Be Way More Expensive Than Cabs

from the can't-have-competition dept

If you want to understand local corruption at a really, really deep level, do something simple: fly into a new city, hop into a cab at the airport and ask them about taxi licensing. I've done this a few times, and you'd be amazed at what a ridiculous situation this is. For reasons that still do not make any sense, most cities have very strict regulations on cabs -- which they always position as being for the protection of customers, but in reality are always about limiting the market and keeping competition out. Planet Money's discussion of NYC cab medallions last year highlighted just what a ridiculous system this is. It's almost impossible to find an economist who thinks this setup is good for the public. And yet it's quite common.

Over the last few years, a few startups have tried to disrupt this market -- and they always get attacked for it, either by local cab/limo services or the local officials in charge of regulating the market. The most well known of these companies is Uber, who is looking to really disrupt the market with a service that they admit is more expensive, but which provides really amazing convenience and service in exchange. Users of Uber love the service, in my experience. A couple weeks ago, I was in Chicago to speak at a conference, and Uber's CEO, Travis Kalanick, spoke at the same event, with a really entertaining talk -- much of it about how every time he tries to disrupt a market, legacy players get really, really pissed off at him.

As part of that talk, he discussed the situation in Washington DC, where the local Taxicab Commission Chairman, Ron Linton, ran a "sting" to claim that Uber was violating DC laws. Since then there's been a lot of back and forth in the fight in DC, leading to a new set of regulations that are being introduced. Of course, as is typical of taxi/limo regulations, they often say one thing but mean the exact opposite. In this case, the Taxicab Commission appears to be positioning the new regulations as being designed to make Uber "legal,", but, as Uber's Kalanick notes in a blog post, it includes some really poisonous provisions that require Uber to charge at least 5 times what a taxi charges. They're not even subtle about this. As the text of the bill reads:
(c) (1) The minimum fare for sedan-class vehicles shall be five times the drop rate for taxicabs, as established by 31 DCMR § 801.3 (a).

(2) The time and distance rates for sedan-class vehicles shall be greater than the time and distance rates for taxicabs, as established by as established by 31 DCMR § 801.3 (b) and (c).
The DC Taxicab Commission claims this is to "ensure that sedan service is a premium class of service with a substantially higher cost that does not directly compete with or undercut taxicab service." But why? We don't do this in any other market. We don't tell nice restaurants that they must charge more than fast food restaurants, so as not to compete. We don't tell Apple that it must charge more for computers so that they're seen as "premium" devices. We let the market work things out. That's what enables disruptive innovation and competition to take place.

What's amazing here (and, to a lesser extent, in nearly every major city in the US) is how they effectively admit that they don't want competition, they don't want innovation. They want a protected market that is artificially inflated. Why would the people of DC accept this kind of thing?

Reader Comments

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jul 2012 @ 10:12am

    Re: Circumvention

    One problem, taxicab rates are set by the government.

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