Legislators across party lines on Wednesday joined taxi drivers calling on the Ministry of Transportation and Communications to impose stricter regulations on ride-sharing services, such as Uber.
Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Cheng Pao-ching (鄭寶清) said that taxi drivers have been forced to compete on unequal terms with Uber, which is not subject to the same strict regulations. However, gaining exemption from these regulations is how Uber and fellow ride-sharing service Lyft were able to gain a foothold in the US in the first place.
According to Bloomberg, the companies began their push in California in 2013, where they were able to convince the California Public Utilities Commission to develop a new regulatory category for ride-sharing services, defining them as “transportation network companies.”
This categorization allowed them to escape some of the more stringent rules that govern the way taxis operate, specifically the need to carry commercial insurance, the need to submit vehicles to frequent inspections and the requirement for drivers to undergo background checks that include fingerprinting.
The companies have since won approval in all 50 US states for their app-based ride-hailing business model, but the model has not been free of controversy. Uber has been to court numerous times, most recently in April when a Philadelphia judge ruled that Uber drivers are not company employees.
The ruling was a win not just for ride-sharing firms, but for the US public, the majority of whom — according to a Pew survey conducted in 2016 — believe companies like Uber are different from taxi firms and should not be subject to the same regulations.
However, Uber has not been as successful convincing other governments of this. Last year, a court ruling in the UK determined Uber drivers to be employees, which means that the company is now required to provide its drivers there with minimum wage, paid time off and other benefits.
In December last year, the European Court of Justice required Uber to be regulated in the EU as a taxi company. The change requires Uber to start collecting taxes from European passengers, which will translate into higher fares. Uber drivers in Europe will also need to get professional licenses.
These changes are a move in the wrong direction. Imagine if, when e-mail was first invented, courts ruled that users should pay postage on every e-mail sent to protect the postal industry. Some regulations benefit the consumer, like background checks that promote passenger safety, but requiring an emerging industry to follow the rules of an old industry does nothing more than stifle innovation.
In an article on the Newsweek Web site on Sept. 28 last year, David Kemp argued that a better way to level the playing field would be to reduce existing regulations on taxi drivers, rather than imposing taxi regulations on ride-sharing services.
The influx of Uber drivers in New York and Chicago resulted in improved taxi services, Kemp said, citing a study from the Technology Policy Institute, which found that as Uber found success in those cities, taxi passenger complaints about use of air conditioning, broken credit card machines and drivers talking on their phones decreased.
It also makes little sense to require ride-sharing companies to treat drivers as employees, when 69 percent of them are using the service to supplement income from full-time jobs or to “earn money while looking for a steady, full-time job.”
In the US, the new regulatory category has also empowered traditional cab companies to diversify. Bloomberg gave the example of Pittsburgh Yellow Cab, which in 2016 developed a new brand and now offers an app-based service in addition to its regular service.
Taiwan needs a level playing field for taxi drivers, but the way forward is to ease up on taxis rather than to tighten the reins on ride-sharing services.
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