Earlier this year, I was making travel arrangements for a trip to Charleston. I booked my flight and hotel, and was about to book a rental car when I thought “wait a second. Charleston has Uber, doesn’t it?”
It does, and I took UberX—the service that allows anyone who meets Uber’s requirements to drive for money, and the service my city of Birmingham’s City Council is on record as saying it’s “what we don’t want”—all over town instead of renting a car.
Was I in danger because I was riding in minimally-regulated private cars driven by people who don’t have special licenses, special insurance, or regular government-mandated inspections? Hardly. Uber’s app gives me a driver’s rating, a picture of who is picking me up, the make, model, and license plate of the vehicle I should be looking for, and real time information on the car’s estimated time of arrival.
I have taken Uber in New York, Atlanta, San Antonio, Charleston, and DC, and I have taken Lyft in Phoenix and DC. A driver in Atlanta who picked me up at the Greyhound Station had mints and bottled water ready for passengers in his immaculately clean car. The Station is across from the Atlanta City Detention Center, so that laid to rest any fears about Uber drivers refusing service to and from “bad” neighborhoods.
I’ve had basically the same conversation with every driver: how do you like driving for Uber/Lyft? The drivers were all very enthusiastic. I met a retiree and a serviceman who were driving in order to earn extra money. I met a budding author who had just moved to Charleston to write a novel. I met someone who was driving for Uber because she was between jobs. I met at least one ex-cab driver. I met someone who owned a cab company and who preferred driving for Uber. I was “surge priced” in San Antonio. The higher price meant someone might have thought twice about taking Uber, but it drew forth an Uber driver who got me to the airport on time.
At no point did I fear for my safety. At no point did a driver carry on a phone conversation while I was in the car (that’s happened to me in a Birmingham cab) or stop for gas during my ride (same cab). Uber has never picked me up 25 minutes late and only after I called to find out where my cab was (happened with a cab). I didn’t have to fumble with credit cards and receipts or wait around while we completed the transaction after any of my Uber or Lyft rides, and I’ve never had a driver look at me like I’ve just handed him the Rosetta Stone when I’ve given him my credit card because I don’t have to reach for my credit card for Uber and Lyft rides.
Lyft and Uber offer transparency and rapid feedback opportunities. Not so with taxi companies. People are right that ridesharing services shouldn’t have their own set of special rules, but the appropriate response is not to regulate ridesharing services like they’re taxi companies. It’s to deregulate taxi companies and let competition rip.
Art Carden is an Economics Professor at Samford University and a Senior Research Fellow with the Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics, a Research Fellow with the Independent Institute, a Senior Fellow with the Beacon Center of Tennessee, and a member of the Adjunct Faculty of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. He has also starred in Learn Liberty programs and videos on personal finance, gas prices, and trade.