EDITORIAL: Cab industry does safety dance on Uber

The coming resumption of Uber service in Nevada is rich in irony.

Cab companies and many cabdrivers cited safety as the overriding reason to deny Uber and other ride-sharing services the ability to operate in Nevada, despite the fact that such services are wildly popular in major cities across the country and around the world. Uber drivers aren’t subject to the same regulation and oversight as cabdrivers, and couldn’t be trusted to safely transport consenting customers, the cab industry argued. That argument compelled transit regulators to go to court to shut down Uber when the company started providing service in Nevada last year.

But now that a law is in place allowing Uber and other smartphone-based transportation network companies to operate in Nevada, some cabdrivers are incongruously saying that taxis aren’t going to be safe, either.

As reported by the Review-Journal’s Richard N. Velotta, cabrivers in Southern Nevada can be required to drive 12-hour shifts, sometimes for several days at a time. Veteran drivers say competition from Uber will compel cab companies to demand even more from their drivers and push cabbies into longer schedules to preserve their income, making city streets more dangerous because of exhausted drivers. Some drivers told Mr. Velotta that they fear it’s only a matter of time before someone gets hurt or killed.

Las Vegas does indeed need an alternative to cabs, if this is how the taxi industry responds to more consumer choice.

Using an app-based platform, Uber and similar transportation network companies connect drivers to passengers, generally in less time and for less money than taxis. Uber drivers use their own cars and, like taxis, will be regulated by the Nevada Transportation Authority and subjected to background checks and vehicle inspections. Drivers and passengers hold each other accountable by providing ratings through the app. Payments are handled electronically, and Uber gets a cut of each fare.

Las Vegas is one of the most expensive taxicab markets in the country, and locals have long complained that it’s difficult to impossible to get cab service in suburban areas, even when trying to schedule a ride well in advance. Uber drivers will fill this void, serving residents and creating jobs.

Cab companies are going to lose drivers to Uber once regulations are set and the smartphone-based service re-launches, because many drivers will be eager to work for themselves. It’s certainly a way to avoid 12-hour shifts. They know they’ll have customers, because Uber delivered thousands of rides in Las Vegas before it was shut down last year.

Jamie Pino, director of operations for Nellis Cab Co., isn’t too worried about driver turnover. He told Mr. Velotta that “within about six months, they’ll see that [Uber] isn’t what they thought it would be and they’ll come back.” If that’s true, then it’s another win for the consumer: It will mean cab companies figured out how to compete without the benefit of protectionist regulations.

But make no mistake, cab companies would rather not have the competition. That’s what this entire dispute was always about. It was never about safety.

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