There's nothing like a bit of disruptive innovation to make the legacy players start busting out the old moral panics. We've written a few times about the new generation of ride-for-hire and ride-share services, which are really disrupting the old taxi and limo business -- leading to all sorts of highly questionable lawsuits and attempts at regulating these new players into oblivion. In almost every case, it seems quite clear that these attacks are not because the service is bad for consumers... but because it's disrupting traditional players who haven't innovated. So, it came as little surprise this week to receive an email from the "Taxi, Limousine & Paratransit Association" excitedly telling me all about a new paper they've issued with a giant "warning" about what they call "rogue apps." Isn't that great? Rather than innovative and disruptive services that consumers absolutely love, they just rebrand them as "rogue" apps and they can make them seem sssssssssssssscary. The paper grades various new services, giving them a "red light," "yellow light" or "green light."
Not surprisingly, the more well known apps -- Uber, SideCar, Lyft and Tickengo -- all have received the coveted "red light." While according to the TLPA this means they're dangerous "rogue apps," to me it suggests that they're all doing something right. They're providing services that people want that are more convenient or better priced than the old guard, which is why the old guard has to attack them.
The key point they make is that these are all "unregulated" taxi services, which allows them to go into full out moral panic mode about how, without regulations, these services will likely take advantage of consumers. The paper talks about threats of "criminal" drivers and the potential for meter rigging. Of course, as we've seen in other industries, this seems like a clear case of businesses using regulations to keep out innovation and competitors
, rather than for a legitimate purpose. Yes, many of those regulations were put in place for a good reason originally, yet many of those reasons really don't apply to these new services.
In the past, you needed regulations to protect you from drivers taking extra long paths to where you wanted to go, driving poorly or charging too much -- because drivers could do that and there was little recourse
. But the thing about these new services, which rely heavily on online reputation systems, is that these reputation systems make the need for such regulations much less necessary
. The services, like Uber, set the price and poor drivers get booted from the system based on user reviews. And, since most people who have a mobile phone these days to use one of these apps will also
have GPS on those phones, people can self-monitor if the driver is taking a reasonable route. Basically, the original safety reasons
(which, again, may have made sense at the time) for many of those regulations simply may not really apply to these new services. But rather than deal with that, the legacy players are doing what legacy players do: using those regulations to try to stomp out innovation and stifle competition.