Uber, Lyft and Sidecar are challenging the status quo like punk rock bands. But instead of screaming nearly unintelligible lyrics and sweating profusely into a microphone and making your parents very nervous, these companies want to make money by giving you a ride. What’s so out of control about that? It’s certainly never the drive for profit that makes the Establishment nervous.
A week ago Wednesday taxi drivers in Europe “snarled traffic during busy morning commutes in cities including London, Paris, Berlin, and Madrid,” protesting against the New World Order of taking on passengers for a profit.
Writing in Forbes this past Friday, Ellen Huet reported the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) warned transportation start ups “Uber, Lyft, Sidecar and other car app companies in a stern letter . . . that they are not allowed to take riders to or from any airport in the state.”
According to Ed Rex over at Medium, “Banning Uber based on the shouts of protesting taxi drivers is like banning the internet because it puts newspaper editors out of work.”
I like that analogy but it’s not completely accurate. The internet isn’t having to put a roof over anyone’s head and won’t end up in a homeless shelter if it can’t. Newspaper editors will retire and write books about gardening or start wineries with cold hardy grapes somewhere in Michigan. The point is nobody’s trying to ban these upstarts because they’re trying to be better than taxis.
In fact they’re pretty much a taxi by another name, it’s just a different set up for how the money is made for getting someone from point A to point B.
Really, besides the novelty of it, is there anything so different for a passenger hailing a yellow cab or a Prius with a mustache?
Using either one to get around, you’re free to come and go as you please, not having to worry about losing your keys, having to find parking, pay for parking, getting lost, getting a speeding ticket, getting pulled over for driving under the influence, or paying for insurance. These all seem like a really good thing. Everyone should get rid of their car!
The problem is with the way these companies are allocating the risk between themselves and the people who are making them worth billions. Right now think of California as kind of like your big brother in the best sense of those words. He’s not trying to scare away your dates, he just wants to make sure they treat you right when you’re sitting in the back seat of the car on your way to the movies.
This past April the California Insurance Commissioner reported that while “smart phone technology is bringing new business opportunities to the marketplace and new transportation choices for consumers, . . .” there are “serious insurance gaps in the current business model of Transportation Network Companies (TNC) such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar.”
Oh man, serious insurance gaps. No one ever wants to fall into a serious insurance gap. Wait, what’s a serious insurance gap?
If you transport passengers for profit in your personal car, any accidents would not be covered by your personal car insurance. Injured passengers and people with banged up cars would be out of luck trying to recover money for their damages from a guy who works two jobs, one of which was just involved in an accident for which he has no insurance.
The National Insurance Association, “which represents members that would benefit from higher coverage amounts, says it’s time that the ride-share apps got real about coverage and stopped trying to rely on drivers’ personal policies, which it says ‘forbid people from turning their cars into commercial taxis.'”
And there you have it. Agendas are being advanced, and cost and benefit and risk and profit are all colliding into each other. Laws are being considered, regulations will be written and the consequences of another wild technology will momentarily be tamed.
Taxis as we know them might go the way of the horse and carriage but that passing of an era shouldn’t be at the expense of people who aren’t given a fair chance to compete.
Hopefully some day soon everyone will be able to sit back, buckle up, relax, turn up the music and enjoy the ride knowing their driver’s got some coverage for any mishap which might happen. However soon that is, it certainly won’t be in time to get a lift to the reconstituted Dead Kennedy’s concert in New York, on June 27.