Sunday, July 26, 2015

Transit districts, not cities should be the ones to tax and regulate Uber/Lyft type services

Portland and Salem are both taking steps to try and figure out rules for the new "network" rideshare providers like Uber and Lyft.

This is because cities see these services as competitors to taxi services, which cities have historically regulated.

So this is a good opportunity to fix a historically based regulatory mismatch at the same time as promoting a general improvement in the public welfare.

First, the right local government to regulate the Ubers and Lyfts are the transit districts, not the cities. This is because, done right, these network rideshare services can fill gaps in the transit services, and augment mobility.

Second, the Ubers and Lyfts have to help with the challenge of ADA transportation burdens, which have all been dumped on the transit systems -- which is wrong, but right now, that's the state of play. What "helping" means is that every Uber and Lyft ride that is NOT in a vehicle capable of giving a handicapped person a ride is taxed, with the tax going to the transit system. Probably, the natural setpoint for this tax is the regular single-trip busfare for the number of riders.

The Ubers and Lyfts will howl, of course, since their business model is to avoid responsibility for anything they can avoid, to boost profits. But we don't have to listen to the howling. In Salem and Portland, the threat of Uber isn't just that it will kill cabs --- it's the threat to transit systems that should concern us. If these new networked ride providers succeed, it will be at the expense of the regular transit system, leaving an even worse budget calamity for supporting ADA accessibility.

Third, and in partial compensation for the tax, is that for every rideshare vehicle that IS capable of transporting the handicapped, the transit system should pay the fare whenever a person who could call on the paratransit service uses the Uber or Lyft ride instead. In other words, we make the paratransit system a true alternative that offers disabled people something like equivalent mobility 24/7.

Fourth, all networked rideshare providers pay a small transit tax on each ride, regardless of whether the vehicle is handicapped accessible or not, but the tax is only during those hours when the transit system is in operation. So during regular hours, riders using a networked provider help support the transit system that they will want to fall back on during those moments when Uber and Lyft don't have a vehicle available, or when their "surge" pricing makes them unattractive.  But there's no such tax in the middle of the night when the transit system isn't running.

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