Media Tries To Make Sense Of The Big TNC Story

Posted on December 16, 2014 by - Also by this author

Look for more headlines like this in coverage of TNCs such as Uber. Until government, free market advocates  and the mainstream media get their terms and concepts straight, there won't be a lasting solution.
Look for more headlines like this in coverage of TNCs such as Uber. Until government, free market advocates  and the mainstream media get their terms and concepts straight, there won't be a lasting solution.

Finally, a business columnist in the mainstream gets the facts right about Uber. Michael Hiltzik’s column in the Dec. 14 Sunday Los Angeles Times sums up what the limousine industry has been saying for the last two years. It is well worth reading as a talking points reference, and indicates that at least a handful of skeptical reporters are ready to counteract the golly-gee-whiz tech press appeasement of  Uber CEO Travis Kalanick.

The Los Angeles Times, like other major California media outlets, covers Transportation Network Companies more closely than most other news organizations, since Uber is headquartered in San Francisco where it first launched five years ago.

But one column, no matter how accurate, does not signal an overall shift in sentiment on TNCs. Another article in the Dec. 11 Los Angeles Times, “Lawsuits against Uber brings backlash,” quotes free-market advocates fretting about the potential for government regulation to disrupt innovation. The article cites representatives from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the U.S. Consumer Coalition and the Internet Association lamenting how the District Attorney’s lawsuits against Uber in San Francisco and Los Angeles will chill the entrepreneurial drive to start companies.

While these three groups are generally pro-business and take many noble positions, they once again miss the mark on regulations and TNCs. The issue here is not freedom, but equality before the law and precision in definitions. Just because you have an app to connect with your customers does not make you a technology company. And if a TNC should avoid rules because they are innovative and technological, then why can’t every single limousine and taxi service do the same by creating or adopting an app?

I have yet to see a “free market advocate” address this question head on. A true free market advocate would simply propose to de-regulate or regulate everyone alike. Taxis, limos and TNCs each would register vehicles with regulating agencies the same way, pay the same fees, follow the same insurance policies, and background check all drivers through the same vetting process. All would then be free to pick and choose their business models and monikers, rate and fare structures, vehicle types, service regions and targeted client bases. That’s how you define a genuine free market in ground transportation. Equality of opportunity unleashes competition and creativity, which invariably yields inequality of results and success.

Until the government figures out how to (de)regulate everyone alike, and free market advocates understand how laissez-faire applies to ground transportation, and TNCs such as Uber stop lying and trying to manipulate the political system for unfair advantages, the TNC wars, the lawsuits, and the lobbying will fester.

Or at least until the American ground transportation system someday goes driverless, which is another subject and not a foregone conclusion. Then we would simply have PMNs, or people moving networks, which would replace auto dealerships (why own?), rental car agencies (why rent?), mass transit (why catch a bus on a fixed route?) and all forms of conventional ground transportation (why take a limo, taxi or shuttle to the airport?). That new world would usher in true technological and transportation equality.

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