Austin Votes for Worse Cab Service

Uber and Lyft have been challenging what amount to taxi service monopolies in most cities. Naturally, the monopolies are pushing back. And naturally, liberal Democrats, who always stand up for the little guy, are falling over themselves to service the cab companies.

Austin is now the latest city where the shoe has dropped:

After voters in Austin, Texas, rejected a proposal for loosened regulations on ride-hailing apps, both Uber and Lyft have announced they will be “pausing” operations in the city.

In late 2015, Austin’s City Council approved an ordinance requiring companies like Uber and Lyft to be regulated like taxis. That meant, among other things, drivers would have to be fingerprinted as part of a background check.

Uber and Lyft, in response, pushed a ballot proposal asking voters to choose between that city ordinance and a looser statewide law.

NPR’s John Burnett reports that the two companies dropped $8 million to promote their stance on Proposal 1 — a record for Austin ballot proposals. “Despite spending what amounted to $200 on each vote in their favor, Uber and Lyft lost by 44 to 56,” John says.

Before the vote on Saturday, Uber and Lyft had threatened to pull out of Austin, a market John describes as “lucrative.”

Since the decision, both companies have said they intend to follow through on their threats, Austin-based member station KUT reports.

The result of this is not hard to predict: worse cab service, more expensive cab service, more drunk drivers, more people being left in the cold because a cab decided to ignore them.

I suspect the ride-sharing companies will work out a deal like they did with San Antonio.

Supporters of the fingerprint requirement are saying it is a public safety issue, despite no evidence that Uber and Lyft are particularly dangerous or that fingerprinting makes traditional cabs safer. But don’t be fooled. This isn’t about public safety. This is yet another example of supposed liberals, who supposedly stand with the little guy, standing on top of the little guy to make it impossible for him to get up. Glenn Reynolds:

The single best anti-poverty program is a job. So why does government at all levels make it so hard to get one?

In my home state of Tennessee, for example, it takes 300 hours of training to be licensed to shampoo hair. That’s right: 300 hours. That training covers things like applying shampoo, rinsing and conditioning and answering the phone and taking appointments. Shampoo hair without a license, and you can get six months in jail.

I think I could teach everything you need to know about shampooing in under an hour: Don’t get it in people’s eyes, keep a sharp lookout for lice and rinse thoroughly when you’re done. Answering the phone is something you can learn on your own.

This is just a small example of the larger problem of restrictive occupational licensing, a problem so bad that even the usually regulation-friendly Obama White House has complained.

One quarter of the jobs in America require a license. And this isn’t like licensing things like medicine or law. This is licensing things like hair braiding and interior decorating. Radley Balko, during an investigation of police abuses in South Carolina, discovered that while the state considers 12 weeks of training sufficient for police, it will only grant a barber’s license after a year of training. The license requirements are specifically designed to create closed cartels that can keep outsiders out and maintain an inflated restricted market.

Taxis have long been a huge racket in major cities. Taxi licenses or medallions cost enormous amounts of money. Monopoly taxi companies can swing that but individuals or startups can’t. This was the entire reason Uber and Lyft got started: to break up the monopolies created by “regulations” passed for “our safety”.

I get what people in Austin are saying: it’s not fair that the cab companies have onerous regulations while Uber and Lyft don’t. Fine. Lift those regulations. There is no evidence that they actually make people safer. But there is plenty of evidence that they close out the market from competition.

One might almost say … that was the point.

Update: Iowahawk above pointed out: just before mandating criminal background checks for Uber and Lyft, Austin had outlawed them for everyone else, claiming that criminal background checks were discrimination.

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