From Charlotte City Council member Kenny Smith:
Can you imagine a world without Amazon, Google or Facebook? Charlotte is part of a national battle within the passenger vehicle for hire (PVH) industry that may determine whether LYFT and Uber will become industry-transforming names like those. In September, City Council will vote on a new PVH ordinance, which, if passed as currently written, will be a major setback to competition, innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit that defines America. The regulations will shut down “digital dispatch” in our city.
What is digital dispatch? It’s a smartphone app to connect those in need of a ride with those who provide them. You can see the location of the closest driver and pick-up time on your phone. When the driver arrives, you receive a text message. You pay through the app, so no cash exchanges hands, and all drivers are reviewed, ensuring they provide good customer service. LYFT and Uber are easy to use and safe, and as a result are fiercely competitive with the status quo (taxis).
Critics, primarily large cab companies acting through the PVH board, support the proposed ordinance in the name of passenger safety. Without it, they assert the industry will descend into chaos. However there is no public outcry to regulate digital dispatch, nor evidence to support that digital dispatch is less safe than a traditional cab. In reality, the PVH campaign is a red herring intended to persuade members of Council to pass a policy designed to eliminate competition. A review of the number of PVH drivers with suspended permits who were subsequently reinstated by a hearing in front of a board of their peers clearly shows governmental regulation amounts to little more than cronyism.
I tend to oppose any government intrusion into the private sector. I am, however, a realist and recognize there is little support on Council to completely deregulate the PVH industry. There is a common-sense solution that will allow the industry to flourish while at the same time maintaining the safety standards the PVH board hopes to achieve. LYFT and Uber already perform extensive background checks, have minimum driver age requirements, and employ strict driver protocols. Both require that vehicles be inspected and properly insured (already meeting or exceeding the requirements of the existing ordinance). The city doesn’t need to add layers of bureaucracy to a process that already works. It simply needs to verify that drivers for LYFT and Uber comply with the standards. We can establish a system to ensure LYFT and Uber are audited regularly.
Digital dispatch is a game changer. We have the opportunity to prove not only that Charlotte can adapt to an ever-changing world but we can help set the course for national debate. I hope we will join cities such as San Francisco, Minneapolis and Washington, D.C., and facilitate the coexistence of traditional cabs and innovative digital dispatch companies.