Ever since Uber launched, regulators worldwide haven’t had a clue as to how to regulate it – it has been such a big disruptor in the taxicab market. Some countries and cities have taken to banning it outright (the list is too long to post links here). Others (such as some states in India) have tried to get Uber to register itself as a “taxicab company”.
The problem with all these regulations is that the Uber model (being replicated by firms such as Ola and TaxiForSure in India) is a fundamental gamechanger. As I have written in this earlier post, the on-demand model propagated by Uber implies that a number of the inefficiencies in the taxicab market don’t exist any more. In this context, trying to regulate it by moving it back to the earlier (extremely inefficient) model is extremely regressive. The right way to regulate is to create a level playing field for taxicab aggregators (which includes Uber) and move the market to a regime where the new technology-enabled efficiencies are made good use of.
And that is precisely what Los Angeles has done. In a rather progressive move (which ought to be copied by other states and cities and countries), the city has decreed that all city-based cab operators need to offer app-based booking services. The interesting bit in the regulation (see link above) is that drivers who fail to install the e-hail app are actually going to be fined.
What this will lead to is that the local taxi market is itself going to become more efficient which should definitely increase both profitability for the local cab industry and also availability of local cabs to the people of LA. What this will also do is to give people of LA a choice between using Uber and the traditional taxi app, which will lead to an improvement in Uber’s service levels. As things stand now I don’t see any downside from this LA regulation.
I hope the model succeeds in LA and other cities see the brilliance of the model and accept the efficiencies brought into the market thanks to this model and adopt similar regulation. I see this kind of regulation coming into the Bangalore market though the backdoor though. Ola already helps match auto rickshaws to customers and now TaxiForSure is also getting into that market. Will this mean that autos won’t have to line up for hours together in front of Lalbagh gate for passengers arriving in the city by bus?
Oh, and LA is not the first city to implement regulations requiring taxis to be “hailable” via an app. When I visited Singapore in November 2013, I found that cabs in the city worked the same way. Locals had an app which they would use to call taxis. The problem there though was that the app was only available to locals (your android/iOS had to be registered in Singapore for you to be able to even install the app), which made it a nightmare for us tourists to move around.
Oh, and while on the topic, a good revenue source for companies such as Ola or TaxiForSure would be to provide the technology backbone to cities that are seeking to use app-based hailing services for their cabs.