App based ride services and creative destruction and plain old destruction
I've argued before that e-commerce ride service applications like Uber aren't some revolutionary business, but (1) a better version of taxi dispatch service and (2) but also a form of premium taxi service, (3) in a service system that hadn't offered a form of premium taxi service before.
Uber has argued, successfully in some cases, that they are so revolutionary that they shouldn't be regulated like a traditional taxi service, while I argue that the e-commerce enabled platform doesn't justify an exception from this form of dispatch service being treated as a "common carrier" with all the regulatory requirements that are designed to protect the public interest.
This law review note, "Is a Taxicab Company a Common Carrier?," University of Pennsylvania Law Review and American Law Register , Vol. 66, No. 1/2 (Dec., 1917) , pp. 71-73, almost 100 years old, summarizes the basic definition. Interestingly, the article discusses a case where the courts ruled a taxi company wasn't a common carrier, and therefore not liable for the impact of an accident which injured a passenger. That wouldn't be how it would be ruled today.
This is the last paragraph of the note:
Both on principle and by analogy to hack and transfer companies, taxicab companies operating from stands on the street or otherwise holding themselves out to serve the public should be held to be common carriers in all instances.
Common carrier law is definitely the issue in a lawsuit against the company in San Francisco, where a family was hit by an Uber-related vehicle driven by someone paying more attention to his smartphone for fares and not the street. One person died. See "Uber faces lawsuit over girl's death in S.F." from the San Francisco Chronicle.
Uber claims that they aren't a taxi service, and that drivers are independent contractors and they shouldn't be liable. Plus if a driver is "waiting" for Uber fares but not actually engaged in a trip, the company claims that means that Uber isn't responsible for the actions of the driver anyway.
I don't see how that will hold up.
2. Separately, in "App-based ride services lure drivers from S.F. cab companies," the San Francisco Chronicle reports that SF cab companies are losing drivers to dispatch services like Uber.
I had speculated ("Misunderstanding Uber, Taxi regulation and what we might call the 'Overground Economy'") that this will end up reducing the overall level of taxi service available in a community--not that there aren't problems with taxi service as it is currently provided. Seems like this is beginning to happen.
3. I will say that I do find the idea of creating premium taxi services interesting, as well as a tariff schedule of higher pricing justifiable. I don't think that Uber's surge pricing model is fully justifiable.
4. One advantage of Uber type services is that they are more likely to be willing to pick up fares in areas of the city that are underserved. But there is no guarantee. So dealing with providing access to taxi service in underserved areas is something that still needs to be addressed.
Uber is for the well-off and/or smartphone-enabled, it's not about access and equity.