By Rex Lawhorn
Our America Initiative State Director of Oklahoma
In the last 2 presidential elections, every county in our state voted for small government and free enterprise. Oklahoma pride is based largely in the fact that we vote for freedom, entrepreneurship and self-reliance. All evidence suggests that, as a body of people, Oklahomans do not like governmental controls and will always seek the independent solution that best suits the market. In short, all records show Oklahoma is the reddest state in the country.
Perhaps that is one of the reasons Oklahomans are turning to Uber and Lyft, the ride sharing applications, rather than utilizing conventional taxi services. The application provides the opportunity for safe, efficient services at a competitive rate. No standing on the street trying to give traffic a high-five, waiting 20 minutes for a taxi to respond to a phone call, wondering how much the trip will cost, and wondering if you will have a safe and courteous driver are all motives for people to choose use of these apps over traditional services. . . unless Oklahoma City becomes a member of the shameful handful of cities to ban the use of internet ride-sharing services.
An intelligently run, innovative cab company would utilize this open source technology to refine their business model, make themselves more competitive and increase their ridership all at the same time. Even without the technology, habit is the hardest market force to counter, and taxis have been a habit for a century. Yet, OKC taxi companies choose instead to cling to old ways and beg the City Council to intervene on their behalf.
Pat Thompson of Yellow Cab, when addressing the council seeking protection from these scary innovations, didn’t ask for control of her business back – she asked for Uber and Lyft to be restricted. It is true that, at the core, this whole issue was raised by less than a handful of individuals, representing a corporate structure against the will and character of the Oklahoma people.
Oklahoma City has extremely restrictive policies regarding who can be a driver-for-hire. Currently, they have to work for an established company, have a clear medical certification on file and have to submit for rate changes, to be reviewed by the traffic committee. In essence, the city runs the companies. The owners are just managers, and the owners seem to prefer it that way.
Uber and Lyft bypass all this – their independent contractors are not drivers-for-hire. It’s merely a person with some free time and a car offering to help out their neighbors in exchange for being compensated for their time, using their own idle property to benefit others and make a little extra spending cash on the side. The drivers are ranked and monitored; the passengers have a verified credit card on file. Both sides know who the other is before contact is made. Safety and efficiency are not in question.
The city appears to be listening to that corporate voice to the end of restricting the use of the Lyft and Uber applications, without any regard to the rights of privacy or property and contrary to good business practices. In the interest of liberty, this cannot be permitted.
The answer is not restricting free enterprise and discouraging innovation. The answer is restoration of free market ideals and letting the cab companies control their own rates. The only conscionable resolution to the perceived inequality is to make the playing field equal for all by removing the competitive disadvantages to being a taxi driver. Just like in all businesses, let the best model win. Believe me. This is Oklahoma. If the business doesn’t meet the needs, it won’t be around for long anyway, regardless of regulation.
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