A Houston cab driver was recently forced by the city to give up his license for three days for, among other things, failure to “transport passengers by shortest route.” The cabbie, who has had a spotless record for two decades, took his passengers from downtown to the Galleria area via the Katy Freeway and the Loop, rather than Memorial Drive. For this heinous act, he was prohibited from earning a living for three days.
Whether the cabbie overcharged his patrons, was rude, or took a longer route is all non-essential to the real story. The real story is the city’s regulation of the cab industry.
Virtually every aspect of operating a taxi is controlled by the city, from the rates that can be charged to who can even operate a cab. All of this, we are told, is to protect consumers, as if we are too stupid to make decisions regarding such things on our own.
Admittedly, taxi cab regulation is not a sexy topic and few Houstonians even know about it. But suppose you found yourself out of work and offered to ferry your elderly neighbors to the doctor and grocery store for a small fee. You would become a criminal for violating the city’s taxi cab regulations. And who did you hurt? You certainly didn’t hurt the neighbors who willingly paid you. And you didn’t hurt the millions of Houstonians who knew nothing of the transaction.
Taxi regulations are simply a form of cronyism. Those with political connections are able to secure government approval to operate. And those who can’t are forced to operate outside of the law or work for those with the connections. It is time to deregulate the taxi industry and let Houstonians—both drivers and consumers—make decisions for themselves.