An UberX promotional image in the US

After another taxi ride fiasco going to Sydney Airport from the inner west this morning, UberX, the app based unter priced taxi alternative looks real good.

But there are some bigger issues. Really big ones. Such as whether apps and high market capitalisations, like that of Uber, are reasons to overturn what are framed as regulations for the safe conduct of a hire or ride business such as run by taxis.

These issues as the Fairfax story linked above indicates, have come to the boil first in Victoria, and are now simmering away in Virginia where the US state’s authorities have ordered Uber and the similar Lyft enterprise to cease operating on grounds similar those which have already given rise to $1700 fines against Uber drivers in Melbourne.

It’s a difficult set of issues to resolve. On the one hand the realistic view of state taxi regulation in Australia is that it is all about state revenues, and the personal safety of passengers, the roadworthiness of licensed taxis, and the risk of criminal acts by drivers of bad character, or lacking driving and navigational skills are way down the  priorities of the authorities.

There is a long, if rare, history of things going very badly for taxi passengers, and if Uber were to prevail, the same might prove to be the case, together with (perhaps) less legal protection by way of compensation or insurance in case of injury in a road accident.

The really ‘bad’ thing about Uber and its imitators is that they would probably cost State Governments hundreds of millions of dollars in regulation revenues in a remarkably short period of time.

Not to mention totally jam up (even more than is the case today) the vehicle access to major airports by making the notion of a hired ride far more attractive than it is paying a licensed taxi fare. UberX costs much less to the airport in Sydney from inner city addresses than does the airport train never mind the taxi driven by someone who had no idea about the geography of the city and no idea about the road rules concerning lane changing, or giving way and not running red lights.

It could be argued that existing taxi rules in Sydney aren’t today preventing the risks that the anti-Uber faction insists will harm the public interest if such app managed alternatives change the landscape for the taxi industry.

Maybe, in fact probably inevitably, Uber type services will drive serious, radical and deep reforms in the taxi industry, and the differences between the two types of service will merge into something a lot smarter and genuinely competitive, but with the safety, maintenance and and passenger insurance protections that are necessary given more than lip service.

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