Matt Yglesias has hit exactly on what I was feeling when I read the city’s rideshare regulation proposal.

The regulatory issue around Uber is whether the rules governing rides-for-hire need to be drastically different than the rules governing driving-yourself-around.

And my answer is always the same: Of course there are significant public safety concerns about people driving vans. But the concerns are essentially the same whether it’s a delivery van or a dollar van. You need rules about what’s an acceptable vehicle, who’s an acceptable driver, and what’s an acceptable way to pilot the vehicle.

But you don’t need rules that specifically discriminate against rides for hire. The right way to think about this panoply of rules is that it’s all part of a regulatory structure designed to make single passenger automobile traffic and one-car-per-adult the normative American lifestyles. Anything you want to do around driving yourself is presumptively legal, and anything you want to do around hiring someone else to drive you is presumptively illegal. That’s a worldview that’s bad for the environment, bad for cities, bad for the poor, bad for many classes of physically impaired people, and all-in-all bad for America. But by all means, regulate cars-for-hire. Just regulate them the same way you regulate the other cars.

I don’t have too much to add to this, other than you can legally drive around in a 1959 Malibu if you’d like, even if they aren’t very safe (see video).

27 Replies to “One More Take on Regulating Uber, etc.”

  1. They won’t even disclose what insurance passengers are covered under, if at all, correct?

    I have never yet seen a cogent argument of why Über, Lyft et al which function exactly like Yellow Cab except for the absence of regulations and the inability to be hailed from the street should not be regulated like any other commercial vehicle service or fleet. Why should they get a free pass that other individual operators, businesses, services, and even government agencies do not get?

      1. Maybe or maybe not but it’s the factual issue which is the main political and legal obstacle for these services here in the coming year.

    1. I think what OP is trying to ask is “Why are Cab companies saddled with so many of these regulations in the first place?”.

      1. Because the overwhelming majority of Americans prefer that our commercial-type transportation systems (aviation, trains, buses, taxis, etc) are regulated for safety and to carry appropriate insurance in case God forbid something bad happens? If not, we may as well let any random doofus fire up their personal vehicle, bike cart, or whatever else to haul us around. If the thing tips over or crashes and we’re hurt, “that’s the free market for you!” is not an acceptable answer for most rational adults.

      2. Every driver is already required to carry insurance. When a friend drives you around for free, you want to be covered, same as if a stranger is driving you around for money. Why should the fact that money is exchanged necessitate tighter regulations?

      3. asdf, because you trust your freinds not to screw you? Can you expect the same from people who want money to carry you around?

      4. Because the overwhelming majority of Americans prefer that our commercial-type transportation systems (aviation, trains, buses, taxis, etc) are regulated for safety and to carry appropriate insurance in case God forbid something bad happens?

        If you’ve been following this discussion carefully, you’d note that no one opposes insurance and safety measures. The biggest objections by far is restricting legal supply of for-hire cars well below demand. Such restrictions don’t serve the goal of safety at all–in fact, they work against it, as a lack of for-hire cars available likely leads to more drunk driving.

      5. Simply put, yes. That is why we have ratings. Drivers know that happy customers means more business in the future.

  2. Andrew Smith, I’m a little unclear on where you stand on this issue. Do you believe that rideshares and ridershare drivers should have to follow the same rules and regulations as taxis, public buses, etc., and their drivers? Or do you think ridershares should be exempt from having to follow the same regulations?

    1. PS, props on bringing the safety of the 1959 Malibu into the discussion. That’s something I would do just to f with people.

    2. I put the video to show that cars are pretty dangerous. I think that all drivers should follow the same rules. Taxis, rideshare, your grandmum, my boss, your employee, the guy with the big hair, women from Bellevue, dudes from Mogadishu, etc,

  3. The many financial issues are a significant difference between driving a delivery van and driving other vans. But I never ever hear proponents talk about them, except when they invoke some Ayn Rand “markets are always perfect” mumbo-jumbo. Insurance is one part of it; protecting both drivers and passengers from getting ripped off is another. Just because there’s an app doesn’t mean it’s automatically paradise.

    “Bad for the poor”, uh–huh. Because the poor are such heavy users of Uber and Lyft, I’m sure. Speaking of red herrings.

    1. I think all of the discussion here is missing Yglesias’s main point. Not only should Uber and Lyft be relatively unimpared by regulation, but taxis should as well. All of these services, plus transit, allow people to live without a car if they choose to, or cannot for some reason. His point about “bad for the poor” is that if the norm is car ownership (and we of all people should understand all that flows from that norm), poor people are going to have a hard time getting around, not that poor people use Uber.

    2. Artificially constraining supply drives up prices and therefore prices out some people. How is that a red herring?

  4. To clarify:

    There are two cars here. One is a 1959 Chevy Bel Air, the other is a late model Chevrolet Malibu (model years 2008-2012).

    I think the point here is clearly to show how much auto safety has improved. If you look at the occupant of the Bel Air, his head and arms are flying around while the steering wheel, ceiling and dashboard are all coming loose from their moorings where they can cause serious harm to passengers.

    By contrast, the modern Chevy Malibu interior stays completely intact, with only the seats rocking backing and forth slightly.

    If this were Seattle Auto Blog I made make some sarcastic comments about automobile knowledge…

  5. When I drove a cab in another city, the General Manager of the company had a standing offer: If the drivers (all of them) could go 30 days without an accident, then they would pay each full-time driver $250. Not only did they never have to pay out, but the counter in the drivers’ room rarely got over 7 days. In fact, even over 3 days was pretty unusual. The high insurance rates that taxicab companies pay are certainly justified.

    The issue with a rideshare is this: While there is certainly a need for a commercial policy in some form for the potentially riskier activity, there is a difference. A taxi is a taxi 24/7. A Lyft is someone’s personal vehicle for most hours. Depending upon the driver, it is only a “commercial vehicle” for anything from a couple of hours per week to 50 hours per week.

    It would not be unreasonable that a rideshare driver might be able to get insurance for the times that they are in commercial use. However, no such rider or add-on exists in the insurance industry for individual drivers (thus Lyft & Uber’s insurance covers). So, even if a rideshare driver drove, say, 4 hours a week on Saturday Night; they would need to insure that vehicle as if it were a full-time commercial vehicle. This is certainly an issue that will need to be addressed by the insurance industry. It is one issue where the two services have different needs.

    1. Cascadia Bryan strikes the nail on the head.

      A personal vehicle is in operation on the roads for a few hours a day at most, and presumably the passengers and driver are familiar with the vehicle and it’s state of repair.

      A for-hire car is on the roads all day long, and the passengers are strangers, blindly getting in to a vehicle they have no personal knowledge of.

      It takes years for a personal vehicle to rack up the VMT that a for-hire car accumulates in a month. That’s what people fancier than me would call a high exposure to risk. And that’s the city council’s purported primary legislative concern – the safety of having barely-regulated personal vehicles in full-time operation on the street.

      There are tons of loopholes in existing laws. Yes, we require taxis and for-hire cars to undergo rigorous scheduled inspections (which they almost always fail) and carry a massive level of liability insurance. But we have no special requirements for delivery vehicles, or for traveling salesmen, or for construction vehicles… all of these are racking up taxicab-comparable miles.

      A modest proposal to level the playing field, and eliminate the loopholes:
      Every vehicle registered in Washington State must be submitted for a thorough taxicab-level inspection every 100,000 odometer miles. For the average personal vehicle, this inspection would come up only once a decade or so, making it very much a minor burden compared to the annual inspections required in many northeastern states. For the average taxicab, for-hire car, or delivery vehicle, this would mean inspections every time their tabs are up.

      1. I think this gets closer to the appropriate steps. The council should be looking at car-for-hire regulations as a whole, and not just ride-sharing in particular. Then, perhaps they can develop a set of rules that are fair for all providers, but that do not artificially constrain supply.

    2. The rideshare companies already provide insurance for drovers when carrying passengers. Is this not sufficient?

      1. The “rideshare” outfits do provide liability insurance for their drivers, and full coverage for their passengers.

        The level of insurance they provide falls short of what is required to be held by licensed taxicab and for-hire cars, though. It has been a frequent complaint by the licensed taxi / licensed for-hire lobby, that the “rideshare” outfits are able to operate with significantly cheaper insurance bills than licensed for-hire outfits.

      2. How much insurance do you get when you accept a ride from a friend or co-worker, who isn’t making any money on the trip? The answer is you usually have no idea and it’s probably less than what the rideshare companies provide.

        If the level of insurance required by state law is too low to handle passengers’ medical bills, a higher limit should be required for every car carrying passengers, whether it’s a Lyft driver towing paying customers or a mother towing kids.

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