It cannot be denied that some policymakers (specifically, the Joint Committee on Financial Services) passing judgment on the proposed legislation to regulate TNCs have relationships of varying degrees with members of the taxi industry and its representative union. Government does not exist in a vacuum – it is made up of people, with lives and relationships outside the Statehouse’s walls. Many of the people of the taxi industry and local unions are their constituents. All of this adds up to a great deal of political pressure.
It is up to the policymakers to rise above this pressure, remain objective and determine exactly the right balance of regulation to ensure not only that the state’s riders are kept safe, but also that the market remains competitive.
It is not the right of legislators to regulate away innovation – quite the opposite. It is their role to level the playing field in both directions, giving the less successful of the two sides the opportunity to catch up while encouraging the forerunners to keep doing what works. Top officials have recognized this crucial acceptance of market competitiveness – JCFS’ House Chairman Aaron Michlewitz described how the push to regulate TNCs may very well lead to the updating of existing taxi regulations, which are largely considered archaic and desperately in need of a freshening up. Gov. Charlie Baker’s office has expressed its desire to “embrace” the technological innovations and progressive ideas that keep our society moving, even if it disrupts the establishment – a stance that speaks unambiguously our collective national values, inherited from the revolutionaries who walked Boston’s streets a few centuries ago.
No one is calling for our cities to become the Wild West in transportation terms. Rather, the conversation is dominated by reasonable, average people who just want to see good businesses, which employ armies of citizens, to be treated fairly. This includes the taxi companies, but even more so, the TNCs, which face unfair and hypocritical regulatory propositions, such as the fingerprinting standards touted by some as a cornerstone of taxi accountability, but which do not seem to be currently implemented at all, as revealed during Boston Police Commissioner William Evans’ testimony at Tuesday’s hearing.
The soldiery in this battle can surely remain civil so long as our leaders allow for a reasonable resolution of the fundamental conflict at hand; this revolution can be a peaceful one, with benefits for blue, pink and yellow shirts alike. A biased, overly conservative reaction, undermining innovation and consumers’ right to guide a fundamentally free commercial market, will only help to further enflame the taxi wars here in Boston and around the country.
Joe Kourieh is an associate editor with The Warren Group, publisher of Banker & Tradesman.