Level the Playing Field for Uber and Taxi Companies Through Deregulation
Kansas City, Mo., heavily regulates its taxicab industry. As we detailed before, the city limits supply (to 500 cabs), manages pricing, and even stipulates what drivers may wear. These types of limitations have resulted in a stagnant and oligopolistic cab industry, ill-prepared to deal with well-capitalized and innovative competition.
Enter Uber, Lyft, and other app-based ridesharing companies. Kansas City’s stringent taxi regulations are not well designed for new technology or the use of personal vehicles for transportation on which these companies rely. When Lyft entered the Kansas City market without receiving city hall’s permission, officials filed injunctions and accused Lyft of endangering public safety.
Since that time ridesharing has made some progress in the City of Fountains. Uber, with the blessings of city hall, launched its black car service and UberX in the second half of 2014. While the process has encountered a few problems (some UberX drivers are still being ticketed over regulatory issues), the city has shown flexibility. Lyft was even allowed to operate until it voluntarily suspended operations on October 24, 2014, to await possible regulatory changes.
Those changes might be close at hand. The city is in the process of reviewing all of its taxicab policies, and proposed changes include modernizing regulations, removing some barriers to entry, relaxing requirements for vehicle inspections, and easing requirements for vehicles’ commercial insurance. That Uber and Lyft drivers do not carry primary commercial vehicle insurance has often been a cudgel used to attack these ridesharing companies, despite evidence that suggest over-extensive insurance does not protect public safety.
Adopting a “trust but verify” system toward ridesharing companies is a step forward for Kansas City, but that spirit should also include traditional taxis. When Kansas City allowed UberX, a direct competitor to taxi service, to offer services under “livery vehicle” regulations (designed for limousines and premium sedans), it essentially created a two-tiered market: the highly regulated traditional taxis vs. the less regulated Uber. That puts cabs at a distinct disadvantage and may mean they are driven out of the market. Putting cabs out of business through overregulation is not progress, any more than regulating ridesharing out of Kansas City would be.
Instead, Kansas City officials should use this opportunity to stop micromanaging the taxi business and limit itself to requiring taxis to carry adequate insurance, perform background checks, and pass vehicle inspections. A truly open for-hire vehicle market could accommodate both high-quality traditional taxis alongside innovative business models; and that would provide the greatest benefit to the residents of Kansas City.