An Uber-foolish crackdown on ride sharing

To put Nevada’s foolish, short-sighted crackdown on ride-sharing service Uber into clearer perspective, imagine this ridiculous scenario:

The Review-Journal and other print publications in Nevada completely resist the transition to digital news, which provides information more quickly to consumers. The state’s newspapers and magazines not only announce that they won’t provide online and digital content — even though people outside Nevada are accustomed to getting news and information on their computers, tablets and smartphones — they use the force of the state to prevent competing news organizations from going online, too.

That would be as effective as stopping a tsunami with a sand castle.

The Internet and smartphone revolution has turned industries upside down and forced them to adapt. But the Nevada taxicab industry, far from embracing innovation and creative destruction, has doubled down on its outdated, over-regulated business model and its penchant for protectionism.

And the state, unfortunately, is all in with the cab companies.

What a waste of time, energy and public dollars.

Uber launched operations in Las Vegas and Reno on Friday. The company’s smartphone app connects someone who needs a ride with someone willing to provide it. It’s already in use in more than 200 cities across the United States and more than 40 other countries. And it’s very popular with riders, who generally pay less than they would for a cab with faster service, and drivers, who tend to drive part-time for extra income.

Uber drivers are insured contractors subject to background checks and vehicle inspections.

But those aren’t the only steps taken to make sure riders aren’t harmed or scammed. The Uber app allows riders to rate drivers, data that become accessible to future potential passengers. If a driver is rude or reckless, he’ll get a poor rating, and Uber riders won’t get in his car. Meanwhile, drivers can rate passengers who are rude or get sick in the car.

Payments are handled electronically, through the app — no cash — with Uber getting a 20 percent cut. And because driver and passenger agree on a price before departing, passengers don’t have to worry about a meter or being long-hauled.

With some of the highest cab fares in America, Las Vegas could use the competition — especially in areas outside the resort corridor and airport, where it’s tough to find a ride.

But Nevada’s highly regulated cab industry has its own police force. And Nevada regulators say Uber drivers need to be properly regulated to drive. On Friday, the Department of Business and Industry began writing tickets and threatening to impound Uber drivers’ vehicles.

The state defends the silly status quo.

Once in business, cab companies can’t freely deploy as many drivers as they want. Supply is tightly controlled. Potential competitors actually have to prove they won’t hurt existing businesses to join the racket. No wonder prices are so high.

Las Vegas is a global destination. As more national and international visitors who are regular users of Uber come here, find out they can’t ride share and are compelled to overpay for cabs, the more unhappy they’ll become. Before Friday, Uber officials said, more than 1,000 people per day were opening the Uber app in Southern Nevada, looking for a ride. So much for providing a world-class visitor experience.

Nevada can’t stop Uber. Resistance is futile. It’s one more thing for lawmakers to fix in 2015.

Glenn Cook (gcook@reviewjournal.com) is the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s senior editorial writer. Follow him on Twitter: @Glenn_CookNV. Resuming Nov. 3, listen to him Mondays at 4 p.m. on “Live and Local with Kevin Wall” on KXNT News Radio, 100.5 FM, 840 AM.

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