Sacramento taxi companies need to up their game to compete with Uber, Lyft, Sidecar

Meanwhile, government should step back

There’s more than one way to get from here to there, at least if you’ve got a smartphone. But the rise of “sharing economy” car services like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar are ruffling the feathers of traditional providers such as taxicabs.

Ridesharing isn’t much of a threat to public transportation or private-car ownership. But taxi services, already under fire as expensive and unreliable—and, at least over at Sacramento City Hall, on the receiving end of contentious new regulations—absolutely hate them.

In other cities such as Los Angeles, cab drivers have gone out of their way to harass, and even assault, Uber drivers. It’s a problem. This past week in Sacramento, cabbies converged at the state Capitol to support tougher regulations on ridesharing companies.

For us, the foremost issue is safety. Drivers for Uber and Lyft, the two main ridesharing agencies in Sacramento, are required to be licensed, insured and pass background checks. What’s more, they’re rated by their passengers after every ride—something that taxi companies ought to consider as a way to weed out bad actors. And, since it’s a cooperative endeavor, the drivers also rate their passengers, something we’re sure that cab drivers would love to be able to do.

The problem comes down to how well the insurance works.

That’s the big issue and a major cost of doing business for cab companies. The $1 million per incident liability insurance that the California Public Utilities Commission requires ridesharing companies to provide sounds good, but in the event of a major accident, it’s not a whole lot of protection. Ridesharing companies should be required to provide sufficient protections.

However, we’re extremely wary of regulating away a new model of business, especially one that consumers have embraced en masse and in a short amount of time.

Uber, Lyft and Sidecar are great. They promise to do two very important things: One, fill a needed gap in transportation services, at least until we can fully fund a truly convenient public transportation system; and two, build community.

The personal relationship between the driver and the rider is one of the big differences between the ride-sharing community and the taxi-cab industry. Yes, the rider is paying the driver, but no money changes hands; it’s all done electronically by an app. We’ve heard all sorts of stories about friendships springing up, and far fewer tales of weirdness than the sort of “taxicab confessions” that everyone’s heard.

Taxi companies need to up their game and compete. They need to understand that consumers have choices. If taxis were as reasonably priced and convenient—and if they showed up as promptly as a rideshare—companies like Uber and Lyft might never have gotten off the ground.

Yes, we sympathize with taxicabs. The city’s new regulations—English tests for drivers, wardrobe requirements—are excessive. And myopic: How can they hold cab companies to one standard but not the up-and-coming rideshare outfits?

Government should step back. Its goal should be to ensure public safety, that’s it. Don’t squash innovation. Let the business of moving people from point A to B work itself out with as little regulatory interference as possible.