Uber Bad Idea

I became an Uber convert quickly after trying the service. Using the Uber app, anyone can request a driver to pick you up. Thanks to the marvels of GPS, you can even track where the car that takes your request is currently located and estimated time to arrival. The fee is charged to your credit card with no tip expected. In my experience, the cars are consistently clean and in good condition.

Oddly, despite the absence of tips, Uber drivers seem on average friendlier in my experience. Perhaps the certitude of payment rather than hoping for a decent tip helps. No doubt the social media rating system for individual drivers also helps assure clean cars and courteous service.

Along with other similar services like Lyft, Uber is a major threat to Barwood Taxi, the dominant taxi service in Montgomery County. Like many, I have had the experience of Barwood drivers not showing up for short trips because they don’t think it is worth the fare. The length of a wait for a pickup has also been much longer than promised.

The Public Service Commission–the same one that did such a poor job of supervising Maryland’s power companies in recent memory–is now proposing to clamp down on Uber and other similar companies by regulating them as taxis. The irony is that Uber provides a better service even without the regulation.

Moreover, Uber has supported legislation designed to assure safety and allay other natural concerns:

Uber supported state legislation this year that would have required background checks, vehicle inspections and rideshare insurance of up to $1 million. The bills, which would have allowed Uber to continue calling itself a smartphone app, and not a cab company, failed.

One sponsor of the legislation said any decision that would push the company out of the state would be “a great detriment to consumers.”

“We’d be first state in the nation to have Uber pull out,” said Del. Ben Barnes, a Prince George’s County Democrat. “I think that would be a big mistake.”

Del. Barnes is right. Uber and Lyft create jobs and improve service for consumers. The purpose of the Public Services Commission should be to improve public service, not to protect an industry threatened by companies that provide better service.

Rather than squelching Uber, the PSC should review its regulations to see if any changes are needed to their regulations as places like Montgomery shift away from the previous near monopoly of taxi services like Barwood.