Post-election scrum powers ride-sharing bills in the Midwest
It is disappointing to see all the public policy debates that languished over the last several months, both in Washington and in the state capitals, suddenly light up the legislative scoreboard after the election. Now that the democracy part of representative democracy has selected champions for next year, the issues will largely be resolved in the weeks before and after Black Friday, to ensure a minimum of citizen involvement and no pushback at the polls.
If this was the only strategy available to do the right thing, it would be a minor and theoretical corruption. But the country has more trouble than ever agreeing what the “right thing” is.
For instance, there’s been no notable consumer outcry about the emergence of ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, and every indication that travelers have welcomed this enhancement of local transportation options. Yet too often, the first thought of state governments has been to shut down what plainly is a very popular service. There are several locales here in the Midwest where these battles are being fought right now.
In Michigan, for example, there was a bill introduced last week and a hearing two days later to make some state-wide sense out of a confection of approaches in the six Michigan cities where Uber and Lyft have launched their services. Embraced by the capital area cities, legendary liberal Ann Arbor immediately filed cease-and-desist orders against both companies. In fact, Lansing and East Lansing have formed the Greater Lansing Taxi Authority to regulate all of the transportation options. Detroit, Flint, Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo also have service from one or both.
The new taxi authority testified against state-wide regulation at the hearing, in favor of local regulation. The question posed by the bill’s sponsor, Republican Tim Kelly, is: what happens when a ride is secured from a regulated city to an illegal city? Good question.
Just yesterday, Illinois avoided reigniting that state’s ride-sharing drama, as state Rep. Mike Zalewski, D-Riverside, put on hold a call to override Gov. Pat Quinn veto of a bill that would regulate transportation services by favoring the taxis and limiting the newcomers. Today, lawmakers announced they had reached a deal with the ride-sharing and taxi industries for a set of basic standards, although details are still being negotiated.
The veto allowed Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago ordinance to go into effect in a few days, permitting the smart phone-summoned services to compete. (Chicago’s ride-sharing rules earned a “B” grade in R Street’s recent report on for-hire driving regulation in the 50 largest cities.) Since a taxicab medallion used to cost around $500,000, and was the major family or business asset for the people who paid that fee, the taxi companies are pulling out all the stops to get the state bill passed. What they don’t appear to realize is that they will be sucked dry for contributions every year from now on to keep the law from being repealed, if it does pass. State legislators who are using the ride-sharing services themselves everywhere they go will eventually tire of protecting the municipal monopolies.
It is not unheard of for these fights (think about cable, phone and satellite services) to last for years, but the business advantages eventually go to the efficient, competent and user-friendly service after awhile. The public doesn’t like to see the law skewed against advances in technology by “prison guards of the past”, as Newt Gingrich describes them.