The city’s fight with Uber and Lyft has me recalling the day my brother and I tried to explain SpongeBob to our aging mother.
She just couldn’t wrap her head around the themes. She kept asking, “He lives in a pineapple?”
The idea of why on earth Kansas City would allow virtually anyone with a car to shuffle the citizenry around falls into the same land of disconnected bafflement. City Hall, with its well-reasoned concerns and standardized processes of regulation, just doesn’t mesh with the attitudes of the sharing economy.
People love Uber and for good reason.
It gives them nearly instantaneous, reliable service for a lower price than what has previously been available by taxis.
It also ought to raise some safety concerns for people, if they bothered to think about it long enough, which they obviously don’t.
The more motherly worries answered by strict licensing came to mind recently while listening to a woman wax on about her admiration for the car service. She was unconcerned about ensuring that a driver’s background had been thoroughly checked, or if the car was recently inspected. She got in an Uber vehicle, called through the account of her friend, and headed for the airport. She never got on the plane.
It wasn’t Uber’s fault. She lost her phone and missed the flight. Her highly rated Uber driver was perfectly cooperative. Her friends tracked him the entire way, watching the car move along a map via their phones. Had her trip been aborted for other reasons — say, the driver was a psychopath — at least police would have leads.
Somewhere, an ambitious entrepreneur is solving Kansas City’s squabble with Uber. The next business model could be introduced into the sharing economy before City Hall either backs down on its demands for permit fees, or Uber makes good on its threat to leave town.
The pace of technology is capable of making a mockery of the long-held adage that you can’t fight City Hall. Innovation finds the end-run by solving problems.
This showdown isn’t helped by the fact that taxi service in Kansas City has been largely monopolized by one firm, Yellow Cab. That fact has opened the City Council to accusations of protectionism.
City Hall is simply trying to ensure people’s safety. But if those same constituents say that they don’t want the help, then let them ride. Let them do it at their own risk. Just don’t come crying to the city if something goes wrong.