Last week, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel proposed an ordinance that would regulate popular ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft in Chicago.
Emanuel often claims that he wants Chicago to be friendly to new businesses, innovation and technology. Unfortunately, his proposal is anything but friendly to these “transportation network” services, and would force them to either severely change the way they operate or leave the city entirely. Where other cities have changed their laws to accommodate these new services, Chicago appears determined to continue using the law to protect established taxi companies from competition at everyone else’s expense.
Here are seven of the proposal’s worst anticompetitive features.
1. Ride-share companies can’t own vehicles – or help drivers buy them.
One provision of the ordinance says that the operator of a ride-share service cannot “own, provide financing for the obtaining, leasing, or ownership of, or have a beneficial interest in transportation network vehicles.”
As it stands, neither Uber nor Lyft actually owns any cars or employs any drivers – they just bring drivers and passengers together. But who’s to say some future entrepreneur won’t find a way to make it economical for the “network” to also own vehicles or help its drivers buy them? And how does preemptively banning this help the public? In fact, it doesn’t do anything for the public; it’s just a way to stop ride-sharing companies from finding new ways to outcompete established taxicab companies.
2. No taxis allowed
Currently you can use Uber to summon three types of vehicles: black luxury cars, taxis and budget “UberX” cars. The taxis you can hail with Uber are normal, licensed Chicago cabs, and drivers have signed up to participate; it’s no different from calling for a cab by telephone or flagging one down on the street, except that it’s much more convenient.
The proposed ordinance would eliminate the taxi option for Uber customers by prohibiting taxis from participating in licensed transportation networks. How that could possibly benefit the public is a mystery. If the city adopts this rule, it will be destroying something that makes everyone’s lives easier for no good reason.
3. No advertising
Under the ordinance, advertisements wouldn’t be allowed on the inside or outside of vehicles. In the short term, that might not matter because, as things stand, Uber black cars, UberX cars and Lyft cars don’t have any ads in them or on them; only taxis have ads.
But maybe Uber, Lyft or a future service will want its cars to have ads. And maybe some customers wouldn’t mind seeing ads, especially if it meant cheaper fares.
Apparently the city wants to give taxis a monopoly on the vehicle-advertising business. That not only doesn’t serve a legitimate governmental purpose; but it also violates the First Amendment.
4. No airport drop-offs
Uber and Lyft cars already aren’t allowed to make airport pickups. Under the new ordinance, they wouldn’t be allowed to drop off passengers, either. This, of course, serves no purpose except to protect taxi companies from competition.
5. No time-and-distance pricing
Perhaps the proposal’s worst feature is that it would prohibit Uber and Lyft cars from charging passengers based on “a combination of distance travelled and time elapsed during service,” which is how they charge customers now. Instead, the cars would have to charge a prearranged flat fee or charge customers based on either time or distance – but not both.
That’s nonsensical. It’s only rational to charge customers based both on time and distance, because both affect the driver’s costs, and there’s no way to account for traffic conditions in advance. That’s why taxis charge based on both time and distance – and it’s why taxi companies don’t want Uber and Lyft to be able to use this method for charging customers.
6. Mandatory emblems
The ordinance would also require all cars in a given network to have an “emblem” on the outside of their car to identify which network they’re in. Lyft already does this with its cars’ pink mustaches. Uber, however, doesn’t – and its black cars’ logo-free appearance is part of what gives Uber cars their distinct cool, classy vibe.
Forcing Uber to add a logo serves no legitimate purpose. Customers don’t need a logo to identify their Uber car for several obvious reasons: (1) the Uber app shows them their driver’s name and picture, along with the car’s license plate number; (2) the Uber app lets the customer see where the car is on a map when it’s on its way and when it arrives; and (3) Uber drivers identify themselves upon arrival and confirm that they have the correct passenger.
So the only purpose of this requirement is to make Uber cars a little less special – that is, once again, to hamper competition for the taxi companies’ benefit.
7. Big Brother-style GPS tracking
The ordinance would also require the networks to allow the city to monitor all of their vehicles at all times by GPS. But the city has no legitimate need to know where every Uber or Lyft driver is at all times – let alone where their passengers go. If the city needs particular GPS information for a law-enforcement purpose – if, say, a car was implicated in a crime – it can always get a warrant for that data.
Citizens should be disturbed by this invasion of privacy, which violates the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.
Citizens should also be disturbed by a city government that’s more concerned about pleasing a politically connected special-interest group than in letting consumers choose the services they like best. And they should be disturbed that government officials are more interested in continuing cronyism for as long as possible than in letting Chicago thrive in the 21st century.
Chicagoans should demand that city officials either remove these features from the proposed ordinance or, better yet, scrap it entirely and replace it with one that simply declares that these transportation services are legal and may continue operating as they have been.