Never a doubt has been in my mind that ride sharing is a neat idea.
But is it right to put taxi drivers and other transportation providers out of business that must play by a different set of rules?
The ongoing debate between RDU International Airport and Uber has brought the entrepreneurs vs. regulators fight right to the middle of the Triangle.
Do rules and regulations not apply to entrepreneurs?
They certainly do when it comes to drug development. The FDA routinely cracks down on products that can be dangerous, have not been approved or promise more than they deliver.
But on the tech side, look at the ongoing Uber ride-sharing app debate and the recent Aereo vs. broadcaster case. Is anything fair in tech wars?
In a Q&A with two Uber execs earlier this week, The Skinny posed the following question:
“Taxis have been a regulated industry; why shouldn’t Uber be regulated? Does Uber as a company have any regrets/concerns about taking business away from an accredited industry?”
Taylor Bennett, who handles communications for Uber, replied:
“There is no downside to competition that offers consumers choice.
“We support sensible ride sharing regulations that embrace more choice and opportunity.
“And forcing antiquated transportation rules onto a modern technology doesn’t make sense.
“We need to create new regulations that apply to the ride sharing business model and that welcome safer, more reliable and affordable ways to get around town.”
At What Cost Comes Choice?
Venture capitalists have poured millions of dollars into Uber, which now operates internationally, and other startups such as Lyft. But some institutions such as RDU have put out a regulatory stop sign. And RDU has been handing out tickets to the unlicensed ride providers. An offer from RDU to permit some drivers is not acceptable to Uber, as WRAL TechWire reported Thursday.
Arathi Mehrotra, Uber Raleigh-Durham’s general manager, insists that Uber takes care to make sure drivers reach certain standards and provide safe transports.
“Our commitment to safety has brought more transparency and accountability to the transportation industry than ever before, far exceeding the taxi experience and offering a greater level of comfort and safety for every trip,” she explained.
“Uber’s in-app safety features include driver profiles, ETAs, anonymous feedback, 24/7 rider and driver support, and cashless transactions. Riders are provided the driver’s name, photo, vehicle make and model, and license plate, and can track the vehicle’s route on a GPS-oriented map.
“Uber has a best-in-class insurance policy that covers driver partners every minute they’re on the platform, even when between trips. From the time a driver partner accepts a trip request through the app and is en route to pick up passengers until the completion of the ride, Uber partners are covered with a $1.5 million driver liability policy. This policy is expressly primary to a driver’s personal auto insurance policy, and is more than 15 times what taxis in Raleigh are required to provide.”
Good detail to know, but is this enough?
A Crash: The Aereo Case
Jim Verdonik, one of the Triangle’s best-known venture capital attorneys who works at Ward and Smith, P.A., insists that entrepreneurs and their investors need to be respectful of laws and regulations.
Wen Aereo, which tried to capture and then send on to consumers broadcaster’s video programming for a fee, the broadcasters sued. Aereo went down in flames at the Supreme Court in June.
Verdonik spoke out on the Aereo-entrepreneur-investor issue.
“Entrepreneurs will not be deterred by this case,” he told WRAL TechWire. “Entrepreneurs will always try to push the envelope.”
But he said investors need to be wary.
“The technology/legal lesson is that just because you can do something with technology, it doesn’t mean you should finance it.”
He blamed part of Aereo’s court failure on the money people who saw a chance to upend broadcasting and cable TV as we know it.
“Entrepreneurs by nature always have their feet on the accelerator. In this case investors forgot it was their job to apply the brakes,” Verdonik said. “The result was a crash.”
Will this be the same result for Uber?
“Uber recently signed a deal to operate legally at San Francisco International Airport,” Bennett said. “For other airports looking to welcome people into their cities, manage the curbside chaos, and ensure safe and reliable transportation options without hassle, this SFO-Uber partnership will be a great model.”
If so, perhaps RDU will sign something similar and all sides of the debate, including those who play by the current rules, could benefit. Better service provided as a result of competition is what free enterprise is all about, after all.