SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

July 2, 2014

Column: Taxi owners, government patrons try forcing Uber to go ‘off-duty’

That cliché, “Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door,” apparently needs an update.

In our modern world, if your better mousetrap threatens the market share of other mousetrap makers, the employees of those other makers plus government regulators will be among those beating a path to your door — to put you out of business.

They never put it quite that bluntly, of course. Instead, we hear about “fairness” and “leveling the playing field,” as we are now about Uber, the company that offers an alternative to taxis by “connect(ing) you with a driver at the tap of a button” on your smartphone. You can also pay the fare on your smartphone.

From the perspective of customers — presumably the key interest group here — it is a far better mousetrap. It’s quicker, cheaper, cleaner. Blog sites are full of comments about how the ride shows up more quickly; the fare is cheaper (you can choose your vehicle from subcompacts to SUVs or luxury sedans); and the interiors are neat and clean.

Indeed, both the driver and the passenger(s) get rated after every ride, so there is actual direct motivation to put some substance to the claim that the company wants to “serve you better.” A prospective passenger can see a picture of the driver and his or her customer-service rating before getting into the car. A driver with too many low ratings loses the job.

Not surprisingly, given the choice, customers have flocked to Uber by the millions. From its launch in 2009, Uber now says it operates in 131 cities (66 of them in the United States) in 38 countries. It lists Google Ventures and Goldman Sachs among its investors. It recently earned an $18 billion market valuation.

So, the goal of cab companies and their government enablers is to deny consumers that choice — or, at a minimum, make it less attractive and more expensive. In Paris, hundreds of cab drivers, demanding that Uber be shut down, drove very slowly on major highways and secondary roads. There were similar protests in other European cities, including London.

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