Government, Stop Trying To Help Uber

Here is a letter to the editor of the Baltimore Sun, published at FEE’s Anything Peaceful and by the Sun yesterday (the online version somehow dropped the first paragraphs):

An open letter to State Senator Bill Ferguson and Delegate Kathy Szeliga:

Thank you for your commentary, “Give ridesharing a home in Maryland,” (Baltimore Sun, April 3).

While it is gratifying to have elected officials recognize the benefits to Marylanders of ridesharing, it is unsettling that you want to do something—pass some legislation—to help maintain those benefits.

You write that “Ridesharing … uses a technology that did not exist even just a few short years ago, and so the rules that govern this innovative model simply were not developed.”

That’s mistaken. The essential rules governing businesses of all kinds are long-established, e.g., keep your promises, operate in a safe manner, respect others and their property. Likewise the rules pertinent to road transport: drive on the right, signal before turning, maintain your vehicle, and so on.

Driven by their desire for more satisfied customers and hence more business and income, Uber and Lyft have established additional rules about insurance requirements, drivers’ customer-satisfaction ratings, response times, vehicle age, vehicle cleanliness, responsibility to pick up all qualified riders, and so on. In response to public reaction they are still evolving their pricing rules.

Where is evidence that ridesharing requires any additional legislated rules?

You write (somewhat enviously?) that, “Officials in other states and jurisdictions have crafted new laws to make certain ridesharing remains a long-term option in the transportation marketplace.”

But wait a minute: won’t ridesharing remain an option as long as people like it and the legislature permits them to use it? What would “new laws” add?

You say proudly that you, “have introduced a regulatory framework that would create a permanent home for Uber, Lyft and other ridesharing options across the entire state.” Why do we need that? After all, you have made clear that ridesharing already has a home here:  “Ridesharing … has been embraced by thousands of consumers and entrepreneurs … in Maryland.”

Ridesharing started, grew up, and flourished all without governments’ noticing. To help it thrive, the Maryland legislature should keep doing what it has been doing—nothing.

Howard Baetjer Jr.
Lecturer, Department of Economics
Towson University

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