Posted Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012, at 3:23 PM
Uber, the company that lets you summon a black sedan with a smartphone app rather than hailing a cab, has faced a series of legal and political problems in the different cities where it operates. Today's news comes out of Washington, D.C. where the Taxi Commission is proposing a set of Uber-hostile regulations including a ban on sedan businesses with fewer than 20 cars (so small-scale independent contractors can't rely on Uber as their dispatch service), a requirement that sedans all install taxi-style meters (to undercut the utility of Uber's app-based payment system), and a ban on pickups and dropoffs outside of D.C.
To say there's no good reason for these rules would really be to miss the point. In most cities the point of taxi regulation is to bolster the income streams of incumbent license holders. As I've said from the beginning, Uber has several virtues but the main one was an effort to hack the regulatory system and use technology to exploit some previously unexploitable loopholes in the fabric of rent-seeking. The problem is that if what you want to do, politically speaking, is preserve the rents then you can always change the rules.