The concept is as simple and old as the automobile itself. You don’t have a car. Or your car is in the shop for repairs. You need to go somewhere. Doctor’s appointment, grocery store, kid’s Little League game, whatever. So you ask a friend to give you a ride; maybe offering a little gas money in return.
Of course, you could call a cab. But thanks to one part monopolistic greed combined with one part the cost of government over-regulation, that option is not only expensive, but over the years the service itself has gone from bad to worse.
“Taxi driver” has become synonymous with “surly.”
Enter the Internet age. Uber, Lyft and other ride-sharing companies have created a new business that allows you to summon a car to pick you and take you wherever you want to go through an app on your smart phone rather than going through the hell of calling a taxicab dispatcher.
And rather than sitting around seemingly forever wondering not only when your cab will arrive, but if it’s even coming at all, you can use the GPS feature on your phone and actually see where your Uber or Lyft driver is and exactly how long it will take him or her to get to you.
In fact, if need or want be, you can even call or text your ride-sharing driver directly before he gets to you. And once in his or
her car, the experience is anything but what we’ve become accustomed to in the typical cab.
Drivers are friendly, polite, courteous and helpful. They have to be.
You see, they are essentially small business owners, not employees.
After you exit their car at the end of a trip, you get to rate your driver on a 1-5 scale, with 5 being the best score. And drivers who don’t consistently get outstanding ratings are dropped from the network service.
I’ve used Uber and Lyft a dozen or so times while traveling out of town over the past few months. And not once has my driver earned less than a 5. A couple earned even better ratings, but the scale doesn’t go up that high.
In addition, the cost is often significantly less than taking a taxi.
But the lower cost is really a secondary benefit of using a ride-sharing service. The superior service is the real reason so many
people today use Uber and Lyft.
That is, pretty much everywhere but Nevada. THE FORCE IS NOT WITH YOU
You see, the Taxi Cartel in Nevada is every bit as powerful and ruthless as The Empire in Star Wars. And when Uber tried to offer its service in Nevada last fall, the Emperor unleashed a drone army of bureaucrats and lawyers to shut the company down cold, including the use of armed, ski-masked storm-troopers to yank Uber drivers off the road and confiscate their vehicles.
I guess this is part of what Gov. Brian Sandoval refers to as the “New Nevada.” Lovely. In any event, the crackdown meant the only way for Uber and Lyft to offer their ride-sharing service to Nevadans was to go to the Nevada Legislature this session to ask “pretty please” for permission.
Alas, Democrats in the state Senate, ever the handmaidens for unions and government regulation, killed the bill. For now.
Here’s a reality check: Democrats only delayed the inevitable. They cannot stop the future. Like it or not, Uber and Lyft, eventually, will come to Nevadans and Nevada’s tourists. It’s as certain as my morning coffee.
And one of the reasons for that certainty is how paper-thin the Taxi Cartel’s arguments against ride-sharing are. Let’s consider a few, shall we?
1.) Using a ride-sharing service is as unsafe as hitch-hiking. No, it’s not. That argument is just plain stupid… but I mean that in a good, Christian way.
When you hitch-hike you risk being picked up by a complete and total stranger and nobody even knows you’ve been given a lift.
On the other hand, when you use a ride-sharing service the company knows not only who the driver is that picked you up, it knows when he or she picked you up, where he or she picked you up, and can track your movement on the street through GPS.
Regardless, I’m a grown adult in supposedly the freest country in the universe. I know the risks involved in calling anyone — including a taxi — and asking for a ride somewhere. It should be MY decision whether or not to accept those risks, not the government’s. So much for that argument.
2.) Ride-sharing drivers don’t get FBI background checks. So?
We have convicted pedophile school teachers who somehow move from one city to the next and still get hired to work in classrooms filled with children. And yet we’re supposed to accept the silly notion that someone has to go through an FBI background check to pick me up from my house and drive me to the grocery store?
Seriously? Uber and Lyft do conduct background checks on their drivers. Not as extensive and expensive as FBI background checks. But I know that when I use the service. I’m willing to take the risk.
If you’re not, you have the option to not use the service and instead call a taxi.
But be warned, taxi background checks aren’t full-proof either.
Indeed, just two months ago a taxi driver in New York “was arrested on rape, criminal sex abuse, kidnapping and larceny charges” after he “allegedly climbed over the front seat and forced (his female passenger) to perform sexual acts.”
So much for that argument.
3.) Ride-sharing drivers don’t have to pick up everyone and anyone like a taxi driver.
Yeah? Tell that to suburban Las Vegans who can’t get a taxi to save their lives on a Saturday night in this town!
That aside, the point is this: Uber and Lyft are NOT public conveyances. They are private membership clubs. You can’t just call Uber or Lyft and ask for a ride. You have to sign up. You have to join.
Uber and Lyft have never pretended to be a taxi service that will pick up anyone and everyone off the street who flags them down. It’s a private membership club. The service is NOT a public conveyance.
And I only repeat myself because some people are just too dense or blind to understand the difference.
So much for that argument.
4.) It’s not fair for taxi companies to suffer greater government regulation than ride-sharing entrepreneurs.
Well, my knee-jerk response is the same one I give my kids when they whip out the ol’ “fairness” argument: Life’s not fair.
But OK, fine.
Then the correct answer should be to lessen the burden on the taxis, not saddle the ride-sharing service with the same costly and unnecessary government regulations. So much for that argument.
5.) Ride-sharing drivers aren’t sufficiently insured. Yes, they are. And ride-sharing companies confirm that before allowing
drivers to drive for them.
In addition, the minute a ride-sharing driver picks up a customer, that driver and customer are automatically covered by an additional
umbrella insurance policy provided by the ride-sharing service company. So much for that argument.
6.) Ride-sharing drivers aren’t as safe as taxi drivers. To make this argument the Reno Gazette-Journal recently noted in an
editorial that “In 2013, an Uber driver was distracted while looking at the Uber app on his phone and plowed into three people in a crosswalk, killing a 6-year-old girl.”
Of course, that could never happen with a taxi driver, right? Um, wrong.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported on April 20, 2015 — this week! — that a 17-year-old girl “was struck and killed by a taxi the night before in San Francisco.”
Look, accidents happen every day. It’s the nature of the beast. That’s the reality. And for every example of an Uber driver who’s been involved in one, you’ll be able to find another involving a taxi. So much for that argument.
7.) Ride-sharing companies gouge customers with “surge pricing.” This is the most ridiculous argument in the entire anti-Uber arsenal.
“Surge pricing” is nothing more than old-fashioned supply-and-demand free-market pricing.
For example, when a concert gets out there’s bound to be higher demandfor rides back home or to the hotel.
As such, there are fewer drivers available than needed and ride-sharing companies then charge a higher price for their service to meet the higher demand. In turn, the higher prices entice drivers at home watching iCarly re-runs on Nickelodeon to hit the streets and satisfy the increased demand.
Resulting in better, faster service.
Now compare that system to that of the existing Taxi Cartel system in Las Vegas.
When a huge convention comes to town, such as the Consumer Electronics Show or the National Finals Rodeo, the pro-customer thing to do would be to put more taxis on the street to accommodate the larger number of people needing a ride. But that’s not how the taxi driver union sees it.
Instead, union taxi drivers yelp, whelp and holler against allowing more taxis to be put in service — since the government, for some reason, regulates this — so the greedy little curs can make more money. And if that means tourists have to inconveniently wait one-to-three hours to get a cab from the convention center or the Thomas & Mack, well, so be it.
But even more outrageous is the hypocrisy of opponents objecting to supply-and-demand “surge pricing” in Vegas since Vegas is, frankly, not only the Gaming Capital of the World but also the Surge Pricing Capital of the World.
Chuck Muth is president of Citizen Outreach, a non-profit public policy grassroots advocacy organization. He may be reached by email at email@example.com.