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Uber Demonstrations Snarl Traffic In London, Madrid, Berlin 507

Graculus (3653645) writes with news that, as threatened, cab drivers in several European cities mounted a protest against Uber today. From the article: "Uber Technologies Inc., the car-sharing service that's rankling cabbies across the U.S., is fighting its biggest protest yet from European drivers who say the smartphone application threatens their livelihoods. Traffic snarled in parts of Madrid and Paris today, with a total of more than 30,000 taxi and limo drivers from London to Berlin blocking tourist centers and shopping districts. They are asking regulators to apply tougher rules on San Francisco-based Uber, whose software allows customers to order a ride from drivers who don't need licenses that can cost 200,000 euros ($270,000) apiece." The Guardian covered the London protest, which ended peacefully 3 p.m..
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Uber Demonstrations Snarl Traffic In London, Madrid, Berlin

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  • In Europe that isn't even usually the case. In Sweden, one of the countries where Uber is whining about "regulation", the taxi market is deregulated. Anyone can offer taxi services, at any price, providing they meet four basic consumer-protection requirements:

    1. They have a commercial driver's license

    2. They have commercial vehicle insurance

    3. They post their rates openly and visibly

    4. They have a functioning meter, which is inspected occasionally to ensure that it is billing the same amount as the posted rates

  • by lhaeh ( 463179 ) on Wednesday June 11, 2014 @12:15PM (#47213141)

    You would think MADD would support deregulation of the taxi industry. Afterall, a big reason people drink and drive is because of the high cost of cabs. It's almost as if they care more about keeping people from drinking them keeping them safe...

  • Re:Competition Sucks (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Trepidity ( 597 ) <> on Wednesday June 11, 2014 @12:16PM (#47213145)

    If people start losing their driver's licenses when they're caught doing commercial driving without being properly insured, I would guess fewer of them will take the risk.

  • Re:Competition Sucks (Score:2, Interesting)

    by swillden ( 191260 ) <> on Wednesday June 11, 2014 @12:25PM (#47213285) Homepage Journal

    If Uber were really offering legitimate competition, I would be more sympathetic. But they're partly undercutting existing taxis through ridiculous things like using drivers who lack commercial vehicle insurance, which is rather irresponsible.

    Is it?

    The fact that commercial vehicles must have said insurance by law doesn't mean it's actually necessary even for them. In many cases, those sorts of legal requirements are imposed not because they're actually necessary per-se, but because they establish obstacles to entry of service providers into the market, and aren't obviously arbitrary. They are arbitrary, just not obviously arbitrary.

    In a market where information is highly asymmetric, establishing arbitrary obstacles to entry is actually a useful thing to do, because the mere act of bothering to clear the hurdles demonstrates a high probability of good faith on the part of the company trying to enter. Individuals or organizations trying to brand themselves as cabs, for example, in order to more easily rob unsuspecting patrons will wish to be able to establish themselves quickly and then disappear quickly.

    The Internet, particularly the mobile Internet, however, breaks down information asymmetries. Uber uses different mechanisms that have much lower friction to establish trust in its drivers, eliminating the need for arbitrary obstacles. Do Uber's mechanisms work? I don't know. They appear to, and time will tell whether or not something more is required to make the service safe and effective.

    This then means we have to revisit the basis for requiring commercial vehicle insurance. Since it's no longer required as an arbitrary (but not obviously arbitrary) obstacle, is it actually required? What problem does it solve that's not solved some other way?

    FYI, I suspect I know what the problem is, and I think it probably is a real problem. My point is that all of the assumptions about what is necessary for ordinary commercial operations do have to be re-evaluated because in the new context they may not make sense, even if this one does. We shouldn't just blindly apply the old rules, but should instead see what problems arise and apply the rules that make sense to resolve the problems.

  • Re:Competition Sucks (Score:5, Interesting)

    by meta-monkey ( 321000 ) on Wednesday June 11, 2014 @12:37PM (#47213427) Journal

    Regulation is fine. Insist that Uber drivers have commercial insurance. An insurance company will offer "uber insurance" for a few extra euros and they'll make some money and the public will be safer. Uber could even partner with an insurer to make that happen more quickly and smoothly. But there's no reason you need a 200k euro license to drive people around.

  • Re:naive and fatuous (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jody Bruchon ( 3404363 ) on Wednesday June 11, 2014 @12:46PM (#47213531)
    I'm looking at it from a bottom-up perspective. You're looking at it as "industry exist, industry is regulated, therefore anyone who wants to do something similar should be regulated exactly the same way." I'm looking at it as "why do we need the regulation that exists? What justifies each specific regulation? Are those justifications sufficient to reasonably support the regulation? What is the definition of a "taxi service" and how does it apply to Uber?"

    Also, a correction to your statement: Uber is NOT giving anyone a ride. Uber is a middleman service. They don't employ any of the drivers. By your logic, anyone who organizes a carpool is a taxi service and subject to the same onerous regulations that a taxi service is. If that means paying exorbitant amounts of money to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars for a "taxi license" then so be it. Don't like it? Don't set up a carpool or vanpool.
  • Re:Competition Sucks (Score:4, Interesting)

    by SydShamino ( 547793 ) on Wednesday June 11, 2014 @01:04PM (#47213767)

    You are assuming that Uber drivers only go places they would go anyway. Numerous previous stories indicate otherwise. So drivers are on roads they may not know with a stranger they may not be comfortable with next to them, who may be talking on the phone or doing other things typically done in a cab. Plus the odds of having a passenger are higher, and you are less likely to know their past medical issues, and they are more likely to take you for all they can get than a friend would be.

    I'm not an actuary, but those all seem like things that would result in higher premiums to me. And that excludes flat-out higher liabilities for commercial drivers.

  • Re:Competition Sucks (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mythosaz ( 572040 ) on Wednesday June 11, 2014 @01:10PM (#47213833)

    If people start losing their driver's licenses when they're caught doing commercial driving without being properly insured, I would guess fewer of them will take the risk.

    You mean impose punishments that are way, way out of proportion compared to the "crime"?

    Why is losing your license when specifically operating your motor vehicle in express violation of your license somehow "way, way out of proportion"?

    It seems exactly in proportion.

  • by shameless ( 100182 ) on Wednesday June 11, 2014 @03:53PM (#47216041)

    Actually, my office is right across the street from Uber's Boston HQ. A couple weeks ago I suddenly heard a mad chorus of car horns. Looked out the window and it turns out the Boston cabbies were staging a brief rolling protest by driving by and honking, handing out leaflets, etc. There was police and a news truck.

    I don't know what the situation is in Europe, but in many cities in the US the taxi industry is a victim of its own protectionism. Boston, for instance, has issued a fixed number of taxi medallions. If I wanted to start a cab company, I couldn't simply go down to city hall and get a license; they've all been issued. I'd have to persuade an existing player to part with theirs... which they won't do unless I shell out some SERIOUS cash. As in, mid-to-high six figures. The price of the car itself is down in the noise by comparison.

    The secondary market in medallions has turned them into major assets. Thus the city can't simply issue more medallions; that would dilute the value of the ones already out there.

    In the end, a policy that Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time has produced a result where there's a fixed supply and growing demand. Until now policymakers just threw up their hands and ignored the issue because there didn't seem to be a good way out of this mess. The introduction of Uber and Lyft suddenly means the issue can't be ignored anymore.

Statistics are no substitute for judgement. -- Henry Clay