A Maryland government agency rejected a proposal that would have required about 30,000 drivers for peer-to-peer service companies, such as Uber and Lyft, to undergo government criminal investigations in addition to the companies’ own security measures.
The proposal, rejected by the Maryland Public Service Commission in December 2016, would have required individuals using their private cars to transport consumers seeking a lift to register with the state government and submit to background checks in federal criminal databases and inclusion in a government database containing for-hire drivers’ biometric data.
‘The Natural Technocratic Instinct’
Nick Zaiac, a policy analyst at the Maryland Public Policy Institute, says the proposal was an example of lawmakers’ instinctual urge to make new rules.
“This is the natural technocratic instinct,” Zaiac said. “They think they can prevent whatever bad things might happen if they set the bar higher to be an Uber or Lyft driver or to engage in any aspect of the sharing economy.”
Incentivized for Safety
Matthew Feeney, a policy analyst at the Cato Institute, says the peer-to-peer economy gives businesses incentives to protect consumers’ safety.
“Lyft and Uber have a massive incentive to ensure that their passengers are not murdered or raped or burgled,” Feeney said. “The background check system, along with the app-based system—the fact that the payment is done electronically and there’s GPS—make it safer, not just for the passengers, but also the drivers.”
For consumers and drivers, taxis are actually more dangerous than Uber or Lyft, Feeney says.
“Taxi drivers are basically picking up hitchhikers for a living,” Feeney said. “It’s a comparatively dangerous job, being a taxi driver. If you wanted to commit a crime in an Uber as a passenger or a driver, you would have to want to be caught. It’s a system that provides a wide range of safety features.”
Levelling the Playing Field
Feeney says lawmakers should allow taxicabs to compete equally with Uber, by reducing taxicab regulations.
“I have some sympathy when taxi drivers and taxi companies say they played by the rules, they paid the license fees, and [they] operated in this regulated system of medallions,” Feeney said.
“Now, Uber is coming along and messing things up. The response to that should not be to regulate ridesharing like taxis. The regulatory response should be that we should level the regulatory playing field so that taxis can compete more easily. That’s the market-oriented response that I’d like to see.”