ERICKSON: The preaching-practicing disconnect

February 28, 2014 

Georgia’s Legislature is controlled by Republicans. They preach, frequently, that they support the free market. In fact, Georgia’s legislative leaders are big proponents of “innovation” to attract the “dot-com” industries of the world to Georgia. That is what they preach. Right now, the Legislature is showing the world how little it practices what it preaches.

Uber is a new and highly popular car service in a number of major metropolitan areas across the nation and other cities in the world. From London to New York to Washington to San Francisco, with an iPhone app, anyone with a credit card and Uber account can hail a black sedan or SUV. Many private car services in America use Uber to fill their empty time. When not shuttling pre-existing clients, the drivers sign on to Uber and pick up passengers on street corners, delivering them to their destinations.

No money exchanges hand. The entire transaction takes place on Uber’s app. A customer uses the app, which picks up their location via GPS. The user selects the type of car or SUV needed and hails a driver. The nearest available driver is routed to the user. At the destination, the user leaves the car, the driver signals the ride is complete, and the user’s credit card is billed. A receipt is emailed with the route taken, in case the user feels he has been taken advantage of. The user cannot hail another Uber driver until he has rated the last Uber driver used.

An Uber driver who falls below a four-star rating is dropped from the program. All Uber drivers have background checks and are required to have insurance. Uber says it operates as the service connecting the user to the drive. Uber, itself, is not a car service. With a newer program called UberX, anyone can try to be an Uber driver with their own car.

Uber is giving Atlanta taxis a run for their money. To be a taxi driver in Atlanta, one can buy a taxi medallion on the free market in excess of $65,000. Or, a driver can typically sign on as an independent contractor or, less typically, an employee of a cab service. The taxis in Atlanta claim they do not have a monopoly, but their practices are very monopolistic. They are slow to keep up with trends, use state and local regulations to shoo away competition, and are as customer friendly as your typical monopolistic utility company.

The taxis want Uber shut down. Their lobbyists have headed to the state Capitol and roped Republican state Rep. Alan Powell, R-Hartwell, and a bipartisan coalition of regulation friendly legislators into pushing a proposal that would regulate Uber.

The law would require Uber to pay fees to the state, use the state to verify background checks, require Uber to file documentation on its drivers with the state, etc. The taxi companies are not asking the state Legislature to cut regulations so they can be more competitive. They are asking the state Legislature to increase regulations on their competition to make the competition less competitive.

Some in the Legislature, including Powell, are happy to help. Hiding behind safety issues, revenue issues and other issues, legislators not all that familiar with the new technology used by Uber will attempt to craft regulations to shut it down. Uber has been largely successful fighting off these efforts. Businesses that might consider Georgia as a new home will be watching.

If the state is willing to shut down the new to favor the old, the new won’t waste their time on us.

Erick Erickson is a Fox News contributor and radio talk show host in Atlanta.

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