Transportation Policy

With a Straight Face, Taxi and Limo Trade Group Warns of the Dangers of Car-Hailing Apps Like Uber


San Francisco start-up Uber has a simple concept, use their phone app and they will help you find a car. Usually it's a vehicle that's a little nicer than a regular old taxi, but the point is still the same, a legal, licensed limo, cab, or towncar will come pick you up. 

Uber exist in 20 cities, including Washington DC, Toronto, and New York. Once again, it hooks consumers up with licensed, regulated cabs, towncars, or limos. Uber does not drive, it does not do anything except help its users use services that already exist. So why is the Taxi, Paratransit and Limousine Association (TPLA) acting like Uber consists of a fleet of Flintstones-esque vehicles, driven solely by child molesters and serial rapists? Why is Uber, and lower-priced like-models such as Get Cab and Ground Link, a "rogue service" where "the passenger is placed at-risk for personal safety, uninsured accident claims, fare gouging and other illegal activity"?* 

Because the free market ain't free, and the the transportation industry is a great place to find this demonstrated in particularly unsubtle fashion. Take New York City, where yellow cab medallions turn out to be better investments than gold. In order to acquire a medallion (which allows drivers to pick passengers off the street when they hail), as of June 2012, you must pay $700,000. Who is benefiting from that kind of restriction? Obviously the people already driving cabs or owning companies. Though 100 or so New York City drivers out of 13,000 are now trying out Uber, it may not be legal at all.  The head of the Taxi and Limousine Commission's current word on Uber is that drivers who use it to find passengers could have their licenses revoked or suspended. 

Absurd restrictions on the most basic of transportation modules is not just a New York thing. Pittsburgh, a city of 300,000 has 300-odd cabs (mostly Yellow); none of which can be hailed from the street, and many of which don't bother to show up except for pricey trips to the airport. Of course this has lead to the steel town having a burgeoning, illegal jitney cab industry, which mostly serves the black and lower income communities. This should come as no surprise, because the procedure for starting a new company in Pittsburgh is basically having to convince the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and existing companies that your new company will not compete with the already comfy cab business. A few years back, I called a spokeswoman from the PUC, who oversees taxi companies for Pittsburgh and surrounding counties. She admitted that lack of cabs were a problem in Pittsburgh, but that they encouraged consumers to "try to use licensed cabs." She also pleaded that whenever the state government has floated the idea of lifting barriers of entry into the market, lobbyists for the cab companies made such an outrcry that it was just never going to happen.

DC, by contrast with Pittsburgh, feels like a dream for transportation (you can actually, no, stay with me here, get a cab — in under ten minutes! — by simply raising your arm!). Still, it has had its problems, namely that Reason TV producers occasionally get arrested when trying to report on potential changes to DC taxi laws. The current fee for a DC cab license is an extremely affordable annual fee of $125. However, as Jim Epstein noted in December, the 60-hour, $375 course to ge a license has been indefinitely suspended since 2009. If DC politicians wanted to "fix" the system in DC, that would be a terrific place to start. 

Progressives who ostensibly care about teeny entrepreneurs and opressed minorities occasionally realize that if they're on the side of the little guy, they should be against cab medallions. But mostly they don't seem to notice that taxi regulations are just another type of restriction that has almost nothing to do with safety or fairness. Indeed they just harm consumers and workers, and reminds us, as in the case of the the TPLA's fear-mongering over Uber, that trade groups and even other business owners tend to have about as much interest in an actual free market as do government bureaucrats. 

Check out Reason TV's awesome piece from last summer on the threatened DC taxi cab restriction that would require NYC-like medallions and would have capped the number of city cab drivers at 4,000, cutting taxi numbers by about a third. 

*[Update] The full press release from the TPLA can be found here, and it's rich with fearful detail about how these apps create "an uneven playing field."

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  1. Why is Uber, and lower-priced like-models such as Get Cab and Ground Link, a “rogue service” where “the passenger is placed at-risk for personal safety, uninsured accident claims, fare gouging and other illegal activity”?

    Yes, because opening the hotel phonebook or searching for cabs on G-Maps is such a better way of avoiding this. I’d rather deal with somebody that has at least some experience dealing with the locals. It’s like having a micro-travel agent.

  2. Uber recently had a promotion here in DC, where you could hail a Good Humor truck and pay a flat rate for X number of ice cream treats. One of my colleagues hailed the truck and it showed up outside our office – where there is also an informal taxi stand that is visited frequently by DC Taxicab Commission stooges. The DCTC stooge that was there kept saying to us, as we were getting our ice cream, “He’s not licensed, you know. That Uber service doesn’t mean you’re getting a licensed service”. As if this was supposed to be the biggest nightmare on earth and discourage us from buying Good Humor bars. I told him that only made the service more appealing.


      1. Maybe not a pedophile rapist, but I bet I coulda scored some weed from him. Or maybe he’s a pedophile gay rapist who sells weed to kids!! ZOMGZ!

    2. I figure the mope selling me packaged goods doesn’t really need much in the way of licensing.

    3. “Oh nos! You mean the guy I just bought a PRE-PACKAGED ice cream bar from might not have paid some government bureaurat gate keeper stooge for the priveledge of providing willing customers with an in-demand product and/ or service! Oh the humanity! The horror… The HORROR.”

      1. I want this country to realize that we stand on the edge of oblivion. I want everyone to remember why they need us!

        1. “We were hanging on….right up until the unregulated distributors of pre-packaged frozen treats overran us….”

      2. Next thing will be non-packaged un-driver-licensed Mr. Softeee deliveries.

  3. I just knew you’d be on the side of shady Kochporashuniszts who own a fleet of Flintstones-esque vehicles, driven solely by child molesters and serial rapists.

    And you are.


  4. God do I love uber. It’s fantastic. And get this — after my first ride, I got an email survey and I noted the driver took a odd route during rush hour. not a complaint really, but just a suggestion. 10 minutes later, I had a credit on my account. they reviewed the ride, said they’d agreed the routing was weird and knocked $20 off the ride. try that with a cab.

    1. So they gouged you -20 bucks?!!

  5. My uncle was telling me last week about a spontaneous eruption of “ride-sharing” in D C when he was working there (late 80’s). I forget the exact locations now, but apparently it was quite common for drivers who needed an extra body or two to qualify for the HOV lane to pick up “hitchhikers” at either end of the particular route he traveled to work. A system emerged which proved to be quite efficient.

    1. It’s still very much in existant – it’s called “slugging”. There are highly organized and really popular slug lines at the Pentagon. One of my colleagues, who lives about 10 miles further away from work than I do, commutes for free, while I pay about $7/day for Metro.

      1. I never knew what that John Hiatt album title meant until now.

    2. yep. they’re called slugs here in DC. the named came from bus drivers who likened the riders to fake coins. it’s a great system. i’ve driven slugs before. it’s still going. there’s a website that has all the details and for the most part its self policing. Fairfax, to it’s credit, has worked with the slugs to encourage it.

      1. Gotchya!

        1. i’m slow on the draw b/c of the beers at lunch.

  6. it’s called “slugging”.


    I’m mildly surprised it hasn’t been stamped out.

    1. You know what’s even more surprising? There was an incident recently of a slug passenger asking the driver to stop driving like a lunatic, and the driver kicked the passenger out of the car on the interstate and then ran over her foot or bumped her with the car. At any rate, this incident, shockingly, did not result in a bunch of pantywaist pearl-clutchers demanding eradication or regulation of the slugs.

    2. I’m mildly surprised it hasn’t been stamped out.

      Perhaps continue the metaphor?

      I’m surprised government hasn’t poured salt on it, yet.

      1. Salt has been determine to be bad for you, and therefore it has been banned.

  7. My uncle was telling me last week about a spontaneous eruption of “ride-sharing” in D C when he was working there (late 80’s)

    They’re called “slugs” and it still goes on to this day, mostly in VA, with all of its egregious HOV and if I’m not mistaken, they have a dedicated line at the Pentagon. It may have been moved, since the crazy commuting terrorists could sneak one in that way.

    1. Got you too!

      1. You are going to have to change your handle to ‘Kwick Draw Kristen”.

  8. This is like when the teachers unions flip out about charter schools.

    1. Market failure!

  9. Anybody heard of this thing called slugging? Anybody at all?

    1. If only we had some DC area commenters!

    2. In a weird coincidence, the last time I went to DC, I got in a fight with a cabbie named Sluggo.

      1. Did you slug him?

        1. No. the food truck serving spinach had been shut down.

      2. One year later, I got beat up at a Neil Diamond concert by a guy named Scrunchy.

        1. “…like my granny used to say back in her tarpaper shack on Montego Bay, ‘If you want a box hurled into the sun, you got to do it yourself.'”

          1. God rest her zombie bones.

  10. Why is Uber, and lower-priced like-models such as Get Cab and Ground Link, a “rogue service” where “the passenger is placed at-risk for personal safety, uninsured accident claims, fare gouging and other illegal activity”?

    You people are sick fucks. Next thing you know, you’ll be supporting food trucks which steal business from decent, licensed, inspected, taxpaying, community-supporting restaurants! These predatory drivers aren’t even *certified*!! How do you know they know what forms to fill out? And without standardized vehicles they’ll all start using imported cars!! You people are so unamerican it sickens me. You’d prefer immigrant labor driving foreign cars versus Good American Union Due-payers… its people like you destroying the middle class ….

    1. And they’re parking! On the public streets!

      [gropes blindly for smelling salts]

    2. “Next thing you know, you’ll be supporting food trucks which steal business from decent, licensed, inspected, taxpaying, community-supporting restaurants! ”

      There’s an ongoing(?) kerfuffle in Boston with a doucenozzle restaurant “review” show (who gives surprisingly good reviews to their sponsors) claiming pretty much what you wrote. Good times:…..-ad-money/

  11. The other thing about this is starting a cab service is a great business for someone who is unemployed or is poor and needs a second job to make ends meet. All you need is a reliable car and a cell phone. Restricting cab service really fucks working people in more ways than just restricting access. But we wouldn’t want these folks out earning an honest living when they could be on welfare.

    1. A standalone GPS unit is probably a good investment too, but they’re pretty cheap. You don’t even need to know the city these days.

    2. You know what’s even funnier?

      Any lib you make that argument to will shoot back a claim that this will lead to intense congestion, as vast swarms of cars driven by the poor converge on downtown areas to look for fares.

      Left out of this little story would be the fact that if cab service was much more ubiquitous and less expensive, more people in urban areas would go without cars.

      1. why do that when we can have the government subsidize bike rentals.

    3. I think that this is the most important point. Over-regulation is bad for lots of reasons, but one of the worst is its effect on people with few resources who have the motivation and skill to do something to improve their situation, but can’t because of the regulatory hurdles in the way. Makes me angry when people suggest that regulations are primarily there to protect the little guy or that libertarians don’t care about poor people.

      1. Me too.…..llespie-se

        (Gonna add this to the post above.)

  12. Economic regulation has never in any industry proven itself to be anything but fucking rent seeking.

    1. History something something doomed something something repeat yadda yadda yadda…

      Hey Guys! I Just got this great idea, it’s called Central Planning! I’ll explain the rest right after I finish the homework for my 17th iteration of History 101 class.

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