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Manteca needs to liberate ‘taxi’ services

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POSTED August 21, 2014 12:27 a.m.

Talk is cheap, especially when the drill is to blame Sacramento.

That’s why the Manteca City Council should practice what it preaches and start shedding burdensome regulations that serve no practical purpose in the year 2014, or at least level the playing field.

They can start with their ordinance governing taxi service.

In the Age of Uber and Lyft, Manteca’s leaders should act now and not later.

Ditch policies on regulating cab companies per se. Scrap language from the municipal code that gives the council the authority that they use every year or so to set base rates, per mile charges, and charges for things such as waiting time.

Just require the basics of adequate insurance and a clean driving record on the things that matter such as reckless driving, DUIs and such.

Don’t wait until someone is kicking down the door urging that the taxi rules be dropped on the wrong-headed assumption that “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” because it is broken. And that’s by the council’s collective admission every time they rightfully attack Sacramento for being overreaching and burdensome in their draconian and Byzantine rules.

First of all, Uber and Lyft are already operating in Manteca. Although the companies adhere to general insurance and driving requirements, the council should change its “taxi” ordinance to make sure that it is clear anyone operating a commercial ride-sharing venture complies.

After that, the City of Manteca needs to get out of the way.

That means no limits on the number of taxi cab companies. It’s bizarre that government can cap any private venture on the premise doing so makes sure the ones they permit to operate are viable. Yet government doesn’t limit the number of fast food restaurants – or limit any other businesses for that matter – nor do they impose price controls such as how much one pays for a Big Mac.

The Bureau of Labor indicates a typical American family spends 17 percent of their income on transportation, the biggest household expense after shelter.

Manteca is fertile grounds for a proliferation of ride-sharing ventures driven by the ease of apps. Many residents commute to the four winds with most heading westward over the Altamont.

The convenience of apps can easily build on ride-sharing commuter programs already in place that are operated primarily by government agencies.

And by breaking the taxi monopoly, it would allow the potential for jitney services.

Jitney services are essentially neighborhood cabs that in most cases have provided critical transportation for underserved urban neighborhood for close to a century. They are the original Uber and Lyft and generally aren’t recognized as being legal by cities.

Most jitney “cabs” serve a closed circle of clientele within their neighborhood. So unlike Uber et al, in most cases jitney drivers already know the people they give rides to as either repeat customers or neighbors.

In the end, liberating taxis could very well reduce the cost of government.

It is extremely difficult to function in most medium-sized American cities such as Manteca where development patterns have kowtowed to the car.

Ownership or access to a vehicle is for all practical purposes if you want to access shopping, cultural event, social services, and employment.

As a result, we build streets and road networks on the assumption that virtually every adult has their own vehicle based on the almost absolute fact they need one.

Imagine if app-driven ride sharing, with all its flexibility and convenience, was able to reduce future demand for vehicles by 30 percent?

That would mean more people could move down streets.

It would also reduce the need for additional travel lanes and in turn reduce future maintenance costs. It can also reduce future air pollution.

We look at the car all wrong.

It is the ultimate and most effective form of mass transportation.

They can be accessed when needed. And they can go virtually anywhere there is a road. They don’t have schedules or fixed routes.

Make it easy to get people to share cars, the more effective they become. So what if some of those people are sharing either to reduce their own cost of auto ownership or to make income?

In reality, government limiting the number of taxis and controlling rates has done little to encourage people to think of them as an alternative to their own car.

Volume, as with virtually any commodity, can bring down prices.

Instead of wasting energy squawking about Sacramento rules and regulations they can do nothing about, the council could do everyone a favor by shifting though their own codes to weed out ordinances that are crippling the local economy and adding costs to government.

 

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209.249.3519.

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