California regulator foolishly warns Sidecar and Uber about carpooling services
Another week, another conflict between ride-on-demand companies and regulators.
CNET and Re/code report that Uber and Sidecar have received letters from the California Public Utilities Commission warning them that their carpooling services, which pair riders with people heading to similar places in exchange for a discounted fare, violate state laws prohibiting such offerings.
Sidecar told CNET that it wasn't aware such a rule existed before launching its Shared Rides feature earlier this year, and neither Uber nor Lyft requested special exemptions to the rule, according to Re/code, making this yet another example of ride-on-demand companies releasing a new product first and dealing with all of the pesky regulatory issues whenever it suits them.
This is usually outrageous. Regulations exist so people can be protected from companies that care more about profit than about ensuring the safety of their employees and customers, and companies like Sidecar and Uber shouldn't be exempt from those regulations just because they happen to be called "startups" instead of "small businesses" or "modern livery services."
But preventing consumers from sharing a ride just because older services tried to bilk people by charging different fares is little more than an example of the regulatory nonsense these startups cite whenever they're criticized for failing to protect drivers, riders, and other passersby. Have people complained that one of these companies charged them more than expected after using one of the carpooling services? Are these applications really incapable of splitting some fares?
If the answer to both of those questions is "no," CPUC is right to criticize the companies for launching yet another service without concern for existing laws. But if the answer is "yes," the commission is merely discouraging carpooling and giving these companies the ammunition they need to convince consumers that regulators are over-reaching tyrants standing in the way of true innovation or the free market or whatever nonsense allows them to attract support.
Let people share their rides. It's better for consumers, it's better for the environment, and it's better than compromising future attempts to regulate ride-on-demand companies by focusing on something so innocuous that it's hard to believe someone even bothered to send out letters.