“You might think I’m crazy to say so, but I actually agree with and support the taxi drivers in France that are violently opposing Uber (well, I don’t agree with their violence, but I do with their anger). Am I socialist like the French? I most certainly am not. But the drivers are right when they complain that they are being unfairly undercut by Uber. It IS unfair, in so many ways. What we may differ is on the solution. But if the drivers don’t protest, they will never get to a satisfactory solution.
The taxi drivers’ real beef, whether they realize it or not, is actually with their governments, not Uber. This is true in France and in every location where this raging conflict exists. Each government whose existing rules, regulations, and laws prevent taxi drivers from engaging in fair competition, is to blame for the drivers’ declining income. The same is true in the US, by the way.
The evil is NOT Uber. And, it’s not the taxi companies or their lobbies. They all grew up with this system—they didn’t create it. Taxi drivers in France pay about €200,000 for their “right” to drive a taxi (much like a NYC Medallion). When a driver retires, he or she sells the license and that essentially serves as a retirement fund. That’s the way the system has worked for many years. It would have been impossible for the industry to predict Uber’s disruptive innovation, especially when there are government regulations designed to prevent that sort of disruption. That Uber found ways around those regulations is a credit to Uber.
The real problem here is the inability of governments to keep up with the times. It’s a leadership issue. Local governments didn’t anticipate Uber—that’s fair enough. But in this age of rapid change and constant innovation, government needs to learn to respond more quickly and strategically.
The taxi drivers in France have a legitimate complaint. But their demands and their anger is misdirected. Banning Uber should not be the solution. But there is no other solution right now because of government imposed regulations. In this situation, the French government needs to do what governments are supposed to do: Lead. Respond to this disruption by changing the rules currently strangling its own taxi industry.
In New York City, where the value of a taxi medallion (once considered a bullet-proof investment) has dropped 25%, legislators are considering a wide variety of regulatory changes, including capping growth of car services like Uber and Lyft and allowing medallion drivers to benefit from Uber’s “electronic hail” system. Whatever the outcome, NY leaders have the right idea. Think proactively. Change the rules to support a city industry. Don’t ban progress.
A better idea for France would be to allow taxi drivers to BECOME Uber drivers or to quickly create their own competitive service. Why hasn’t that happened? Because it would mean promptly repealing decades of regulatory control over the taxi industry. Deregulation wouldn’t cost many taxi-driver jobs—what government should care about—but it would negate the need for many government jobs, which is what bureaucrats seem to care most about. Deregulating an industry means the need for fewer regulators and the government would lose a tremendous source of revenue. The real unwillingness to change is not coming from the taxi drivers. The real problem is a non-adaptive system of governance.
We would all do well to recognize who it is we should really be angry with—and why.”