PSA on the Provincetown fast ferry — July 4, 2016

PSA on the Provincetown fast ferry

If you want to take an Uber to the Bay State Cruise Company ferry from Boston to Provincetown, don’t tell the Uber driver to go to 200 Seaport Boulevard. That’s a very large building, and you’ll end up blocks (as well as some vertical feet) away from where you want to be. Where you really want to be is at the corner of Seaport Blvd. and B Street. If I invent a location called “165 Northern Ave.,” that seems to be where you want to be.

Cambridge is trying to kill Uber again — June 17, 2014
Chicago taxi drivers v. Uber — February 6, 2014

Chicago taxi drivers v. Uber

This is odd. If the synopsis is right, Chicago taxi drivers essentially object to the existence of services that are tantamount to taxi companies but aren’t required to submit to all the regulation of taxi companies. And then there’s the natural “we invested all this money in medallions, and now the absence of regulation is making them worthless” argument.

If that’s the state of the argument, then I’d retort with:

1. If consistency is what you’re after, then another answer is to weaken regulation on taxi companies rather than to strengthen regulation on Uber.
2. “Taxi medallions are a failed policy, but we have to continue that policy because we invested money in it and we can’t very well just fix the failed policy, now can we?” is basically a libertarian’s fever dream of what regulatory capture and bad government look like. Let’s not feed that.

If I had a car, I could pick up a friend in it and drive him or her anywhere. At the end of the ride, my friend could — if he or she chose — pay me for driving him or her. Friends routinely pay each other gas money, so this isn’t at all unheard of. Yet if I advertise my services as a driver, and people routinely come to pay me to drive them places, I’ve apparently now crossed over the line and have drawn the ire of taxi authorities. It’s weird. If we’re looking for consistency, let’s just drop these laws.

The market doesn’t always arrive at the correct outcome, and I can certainly see cases where an unregulated market in taxis could be a bad thing. Are taxis, for instance, required to pick up anyone regardless of the passenger’s race? A market solution to this would involve some notion of reputation: if particular Uber drivers in particular cities developed a reputation for not picking up black passengers, one hopes that reputation systems alone would lead the drivers to be scorned and would lead Uber to fire them. It’s an institutional question, and one worth solving.

But I, anyway, would need to be convinced that markets can’t do the job here. Until proven otherwise, I assume that taxi cab drivers’ protestations are mere rent-seeking.