Austin controversies

Will Austin deregulate taxis to bring back Uber and Lyft?

May 11, 2016

While the righty-libertarian wing of the blogosphere is a-twitter mocking Austin for regulating Uber and Lyft out of town, the executive branch of the city government seems to be moving against the city council and the Democratic establishment. Today brings news of an “internal” memo, dated just days after the offending referendum, proposing deregulation of the taxi cartel to level the playing field with the ridesharing gig. This is good news, even if the city council does not go along, because it suggests intelligence in the actual management of the city of Austin.

Several things might be said about this idea.

First, literally the first sentence of the internal memo says that it is “an update on the effort … to provide a ‘level playing field'” for taxis, which is essentially an admission that the Austin ordinance was to protect a cartel in an industry that should die a reasonably abrupt death anyway (if ridesharing had existed before taxis, would anybody in their right mind start a taxi business that did not have a monopoly guarantee from government?).

Second, props to Mayor Stephen Adler for this maneuver. We have a new regard for his capacity to play the long game.

Third, all of this sad business might have been avoided if the city had followed the freaking brilliant advice in this letter to the editor of the Austin Statesman back on October 10:

The City Council’s proposals to burden Uber and Lyft with substantial new regulations, which may well drive them out of Austin or diminish services, are misguided. Thousands of Austinites provide these services safely, and hundreds of thousands use them. They work — and because there is real-time documentation of a specific rider getting into the car with a specific driver, the possibility of crime against one another is lower than using taxis, which have no evidence connecting driver and rider. If the problem is asymmetrical regulation with taxis, consider adopting Sarasota, Florida’s sensible solution, which is to deregulate both taxis and ride hailing. If the problem is revenue — and one gets the sense that ever-higher taxis are the real agenda here — consider a simple revenue-neutral tax that applies equally to both taxis and transportation networking companies. But do not drive out ride-hailing apps, which, as evidenced by demand, [are] solving a genuine transportation problem here in Austin.

People really need to listen to that guy.

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