Yesterday, Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward’s office announced that his administration had reached a temporary agreement with Uber allowing the ride-sharing company to operate at Pensacola International Airport.
That’s great news. Regardless of how taxi drivers may feel, there’s a clear demand for Uber’s services, and the company isn’t going anywhere. Some may criticize Hayward’s move as unilateral — but this is a prime example of the leadership citizens expected when they elected a strong mayor. The city council has had this issue for months, without action. Meanwhile, demand for Uber’s services has only grown.
If you haven’t used Uber before, here’s how it works. First, you download an app to your phone, create an account, and add a payment method. Then, when you need a ride, you simply press a button and tell the app where you’re going. The app uses your phone’s GPS to tell a driver exactly where you’re at and gives you an estimate of the trip’s cost. When you reach your destination, you get out of the car and the app automatically charges you for the trip. That’s it — no hailing, no calling a dispatcher and trying to explain where you’re at, no having to carry cash or haggle over fares or tips. Uber has created a remarkably simple and elegant process, and it’s won the company a lot of fans.
That said, we’re not deaf to the concerns of the taxi industry. The argument they make is fair: regardless of what Uber calls itself, the service it provides is very similar to the service provided by taxi companies, and government should treat both similarly. We agree. The City’s arcane and outmoded taxicab regulations clock in at more than 10,000 words. They’re a relic from a time when smartphones and apps like Uber couldn’t possibly have been foreseen. It’s time to either fix the rules, or scrap them altogether.
The ball is in the city council’s court. We hope they’ll take action, sooner rather than later, to establish a regulatory framework that addresses traditional taxicabs as well as new services like Uber. Provide an even playing field, and let the free market handle the rest.
Here’s the thing — as we so often feel compelled to remind local government, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Dozens of cities have already addressed this issue. There’s no need to drag this issue out for months or years. Let’s look at what some of those cities are doing, find a solution that’s working, put it into place here, and move on.