Editor's note: This column appears in a point-counterpoint regarding Uber regulations. Read this column's corresponding counterpoint here.
While Austin City Council mulls whether to extend regulations for ride-sharing services, it must effectively weigh the costs and benefits of ride-sharing. Uber’s entry into Austin made transportation safer, and over-regulation could halt this progress.
Uber exists because taxis do not efficiently fulfill demand for transportation. In 2012, before Uber became licensed to operate in Austin, cab drivers saw their earnings fall and argued that there were too many cabs on the road. When Austin seemed not to have room for taxis, Uber tapped into a market that taxis could not reach.
Uber’s business model is responsible for its emergence. Taxis need regulatory approval to add more cars, but Uber does not. And while taxi companies consistently try to supply as many cars as they can throughout the day, Uber’s part-time model means more drivers choose to work at peak hours. It does not matter if Yellow Cab Austin has an app if its model keeps it from seeking customers in need.
Regulating Uber would mean removing a means of transportation from a demographic that would otherwise drink and drive. Uber’s entry has correlated with a statistically significant decline in drinking and driving in the cities where it operates. A study from Temple University further found that this directly led to a 3.5 to 5.5 percent decrease in drinking and driving deaths. Data based on Austin arrests back up these conclusions.
While riders are benefiting from ride-sharing, taxi companies are working to damage Uber’s reputation in order to hold onto their market share. The taxi lobby is outspending Uber 3,500 to 1, and has set up campaigns that promote fear mongering about Uber drivers. These tactics prevent an effective discussion of costs and benefits by sensationalizing anecdotal evidence.
Even given these vicious anecdotes, it is incredibly difficult to quantify how many more dangerous Uber drivers there are than taxi drivers. Police departments do not track assaults in taxi cabs, which makes it nearly impossible to validate claims about assault risk.
Uber’s GPS tracking and rating system provides riders with both proactive and reactive resources for their safety. Further, independent studies have shown that Uber drivers have better driving habits than taxi drivers, making Uber riders less likely to be in a wreck.
When costs and benefits are added up, the reduction in drinking and driving deaths from Uber use should dwarf the handful of sensationalized stories the taxi lobby will offer. In spite of what the smear campaigns suggest, Uber is making transportation safer for its riders. Do not buy the anti-Uber hype. Do buy yourself a safe ride home.
Chase is a Plan II junior from Royse City. Follow him on Twitter @alexwchase.