At the Greensboro City Council meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 17, representatives of Blue Bird Taxi complained about competition from Uber. The Washington Post on Wednesday, Oct. 18 ran a front-page article about the fight between Uber and London taxi companies.
City Councilmember Mike Barber noted at the meeting that this was an issue that was not unique to Greensboro but was being raised all over the country.
With Uber, the passenger uses an app on their smart phone to contact the company, giving them their location and the time they want to be picked up. Uber responds with an estimated arrival time for the Uber car and a description of the car and driver. On arrival at the destination, the fee is automatically deducted from the passenger’s account. No cash changes hands. Most Uber drivers use their personal cars.
A number of factors have made Uber popular. Fares are as much as 50 percent cheaper than taxis, no cash changes hands and there is no tipping. Uber riders also report that the cars are generally cleaner and nicer than the average taxi.
It’s a case of technology meeting the status quo and it appears technology is winning.
Greensboro, like most cities, highly regulates the taxi business. In fact, the City Council controls the exact number of taxi licenses in Greensboro.
By doing so, the City Council gives the current cab companies a monopoly. A few years ago when some entrepreneur tried to start a new cab company, the current companies, were up in arms. Now they have competition from a new source, a source that doesn’t need the blessing of the City Council to compete in the ride-for-hire business.
Why shouldn’t the taxi business have competition like other businesses in Greensboro? The City Council doesn’t control the number of grocery stores, bars, restaurants, newspapers, contractors, print shops, Realtors, car lots, banks, lawyers, accountants, karate schools – well, you get the idea. Why should the City Council control the number of taxies in Greensboro? Does the City Council have some unique knowledge of how many taxis is the right number and how many is too many? What disaster would befall Greensboro if it had one “too many” cabs? Might there be some competition? Might someone get a ride sooner than they otherwise would have?
One solution for the City Council would be to get out of the taxi business. As long as the cabs pass a safety inspection, they should be allowed to operate; and as many people who want to operate cabs should be allowed to do so and charge whatever the market will bear.
The industry will self regulate like everything else. If you go to a restaurant and the only thing worse than the service is the food, then you are not likely to go back because there are plenty of other restaurants in town. But imagine if there were only two or three restaurants in Greensboro because the City Council regulated the number of restaurants. In that case, you could go to another restaurant, but you would know that the food and service would be just as bad, because the three restaurants in town were always full so they didn’t have to worry about food or service.
Taxis are a great example of government overreaching its purpose. The City Council cannot regulate Uber because the state legislature decided that the state would regulate Uber-type transportation companies.
The legislature did that for a reason. The legislators knew how politically powerful cab companies are and that city councils all over the state would put undue regulations on Uber-type companies to keep them out of the personal transportation market. The state legislature is often characterized by the mainstream media as a bunch of Neanderthals in Raleigh who live in another century, but in this case it was the legislature that was helping North Carolina adjust to the 21st century.
So the City Council can’t do a thing about Uber, but it can deregulate cabs in Greensboro and allow the free market to take over.
The cab business is not the only business in the world that is facing new competition from smart phones and electronic media. In fact, it’s hard to find an industry that isn’t having to adjust. Few are running down to the City Council asking for help; but then few have monopolies granted by the City Council like the current cab companies.
The City Council also finally awarded the contract to run the city’s bus system to Transdev, the same company that won the bid the first time six months ago and has been running the city bus system for years. The whole process was started over when it was reported that Skip Alston, who is now a Guilford County commissioner and is a consultant for Transdev, met with several members of the Greensboro Transportation Authority.
The city decided that because of the appearance of impropriety, it would be best to rebid the contract.
The City Council also annexed several pieces of property and rezoned them at the request of the property owner. Unlike in years past, when long reports were read on unopposed annexations and rezoning requests, if there is no opposition, the City Council passes them without listening to someone read a report they have all read.
The City Council likewise rezoned property on Old Battleground Road to allow completion of a project that was started in 2007 and was never finished because of the recession. It’s a really good sign that projects started before the recession are finally being completed.
At the City Council work session before the regular meeting, the council received a report on changing the name of part of Westover Terrace and Aycock Street that runs past Grimsley High School to Josephine Boyd Street, to honor Josephine Boyd, the first black student to attend what was then Greensboro High School.
The idea was proposed by Lewis Brandon, who said his only goal was to honor Josephine Boyd. But as with everything the devil is in the details and the City Council also wants to consider renaming Aycock Street up to Gate City Boulevard. Part of the reason for that is simply to avoid the confusion of changing the name of a street that already has four names.
So the council wants to consider changing one mile of the street, which was Brandon’s proposal, but also changing the street name for about 4 miles, which might be less confusing in the future but will involve far more property owners and neighborhoods.
There is no opposition to changing the name of the street, but the City Council requested more information before deciding how to proceed.
The City Council also heard a report recommending the city enter into a sister city agreement with Suqian, China. This is evidently one of the things bureaucrats do when they have nothing useful to do.
Greensboro currently has two or three sister cities. In 1964, Greensboro entered into a sister city agreement with Montbeliard, France. Don Vaughan, who was on the City Council from 1991 to 2005, visited the city once in the 1990s and that seems to have been the last contact.
At the request of former City Councilmember Sandy Carmany, Greensboro became a sister city with Sectorul Buiucani, Moldova, but since Carmany went off the City Council in 2007, there has been no known contact.
According to Wikepedia, Yingkou, China, became Greensboro’s sister city in 2009, but Councilmember Yvonne Johnson, who was mayor at the time, said she didn’t know anything about it.
If city employees actually have nothing better to do than form sister city relationships – which are apparently forgotten about not long after they are formed – maybe it’s a sign that we don’t need so many city employees.