At the end of January, Creative Loafing published an article talking about taxi companies who were unhappy that Uber and Lyft are able to skirt around requirements that taxi companies have been required to adhere to for years (“Atlanta’s taxi industry declares war on Uber, Lyft”). At the start of February, House Bill 907 was introduced in the State House of Representatives. Ultimately, this bill would require Uber, Lyft, and other similar services to be party to the same broken medallion system that, in my opinion, is broken.
The current medallion system is a relic of an age before GPS tracking, comprehensive background checks, and the ability to request a specific driver using an handheld device connected to the internet. It introduces artificial scarcity because the city of Atlanta only issues a fixed number of medallions, and all of those have been issued. (There are some the city is holding onto, but don’t intend to let go.) Page two of the CL article goes into it more in depth, but the implementation of this bill would result in shutting down Uber and Lyft in Atlanta.
This afternoon, I wrote an email to my State Representative to express my disagreement with the bill. That email is reproduced below with the representatives name and my addressed removed. If you, like I, disagree with the implementation of this bill, I encourage you to do the same.
Below is my email.
Dear Representative ____,
My name is Matt Farmer. I’m a constituent in the district you represent in the Georgia House of Representatives. I’m writing you today to discuss House Bill 907, introduced earlier this month.
This bill, as I’m sure you’re aware, would require services such as Uber and Lyft to be held to the same expectations as Taxi companies. I am sympathetic to the plight of the taxi companies. The way medallions are managed in the City of Atlanta makes their job more difficult than it has to be, and it’s frustrating to find that a competitor has come in and found a way around those restrictions. However, HB 907, which seeks to solve this by expanding the broken system, isn’t the answer.
Ultimately, my issues with the bill are as follows:
- The Taxi companies, despite what they say, do not seem to provide the same quality of service as Uber and Lyft. I believe can receive a higher quality of service, a cleaner car, and a more friendly experience from the drivers those companies employ than I can from that of any of the taxi services in Atlanta.
- HB 907 expands a broken system based on the artificial scarcity of medallions, placing a “first-come first-served” dynamic on the market. This is a principle that implements a “first-come first-served” dynamic on the free market, will stifle innovation, and ultimately hurt the market as a whole.
- Taxi companies argue that new car services are less safe than their taxi alternatives. As someone working in the technology industry, I have no reason to believe this is the case. If anything, I find them to be more safe. Drivers for these services are constantly monitored via GPS with a high degree of accuracy while they’re on the clock. They are background-checked, and insured.
- Only one sponsor on the bill lives inside the perimeter of Atlanta (Representative Oliver of the 82nd). The rest of the sponsors, including Representative Powell, are from areas not serviced by these companies. Not having constituents who live in the urban Atlanta area means they are not accountable to the people who this bill will affect the most.
An honest conversation needs to happen about whether or not the restrictions that were places on car services in the past are still needed for the safety of the public. In a day and age where I request a car, can see that car on a GPS as it arrives, see the picture and name of my driver, am I more likely to be the victim of a crime? Or, by no longer hailing the first car that happens to drive by, have we eliminated the danger that medallions and other regulations were intended to protect us from to begin with?
I would argue that we have, but regardless it’s a discussion worth having on a broader level. And, after that conversation, we then have the opportunity to have the discussion over the best way to protect the public while allowing the most amount of free market competition. But I don’t think any system based on an artificial scarcity is the one that’s the best for our market, and the expansion of such a system can only be harmful.
I will post here if I get a response that’s interesting from them. Please encourage your representatives to strike down this law as well. Let’s do a solid for Uber and Lyft. They’ve done a solid for us by showing us that grabbing a ride in a city where we do too much driving on our own doesn’t have to suck.