It isn’t Uber’s powerful lobbyists who are responsible for jurisdictions across the country, including Montgomery County, rethinking taxi regulations [“Uber’s aggressive tactics push change,” front page, Dec. 14]. Uber and Lyft are turning a tired taxi industry on its head with a better business model and better technology that appeal to consumers and drivers alike.
The taxi industry will never be the same, nor should it be. As the Montgomery County Council recently heard in public testimony, the heavily regulated and heretofore protected industry “exploits” drivers, often African immigrants. Drivers are angry. They generally pay up to $110 a day for the privilege of leasing a not-so-great cab with not-so-great technology. After gas and other expenses, it can take them 16 hours a day just to dig out of the hole and provide a marginal return for their families. With Uber and Lyft, drivers use their own or a friend’s nice car and make money on the first ride because of the 70/30 to 80/20 fee-sharing.
Uber and Lyft are to the taxi industry what rooftop solar is to the electric utility industry. Both pose serious threats to the current business and regulatory models. And both of those current models must change.
Roger Berliner, Rockville
The writer, a Democrat, represents Potomac-Bethesda on the Montgomery County Council and is chair of the council’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee.
Is our new “sharing economy” taking the consumer protection movement full circle by returning us to a buyer-beware marketplace?
Taxi rides are regulated; Uber and Lyft claim not to be in the taxi business. Hotels are built to code and inspected; Airbnb claims not to be renting rooms. Charities are required to register and disclose financial information; crowdfunding sites such as GoFundMe collect thousands of dollars in “donations” minutes after a tragedy strikes.
Smartphones, the Internet and new technologies are changing our marketplace and may create efficiencies, convenience and improved service. However, have the regulatory protections and avenues of redress that became commonplace in the 1970s been able to keep pace with these changes? Do consumers still have a place to turn when disputes and deception pop up in our daily transactions?
Local governments’ consumer-protection agencies have ensured integrity in the marketplace by investigating and resolving complaints. These agencies have been the foot soldiers in protecting consumers and businesses from unscrupulous practices. Deception in the marketplace hurts consumers and reputable merchants. Fairness encourages consumers to purchase and promotes business development.
The transition of our marketplace to a sharing economy appears to be creating a world of “independent contractors” who claim not to be in the business for which they would otherwise be subject to regulation and accountability.
The challenge may be finding the balance between innovation and creativity in the marketplace with the need for the protection and redress that we have come to expect.
Eric Friedman, Bethesda
The writer is director of Montgomery County’s Office of Consumer Protection.