- - Friday, April 10, 2015

It’s one of the oldest stories in the book. A new technology is invented, businesses begin to implement that technology, and then big-government bureaucrats decide they need to regulate it.

I’m sure the horse and buggy lobby was pretty upset when the first cars started to roll off the assembly line. Unfortunately for them, their friends in government couldn’t do anything to stop Henry Ford’s success, and my guess is the politicians that firmly oppose the free market won’t be able to do anything to stop another new innovation today.

Uber and Lyft have been around for a while, but they have recently started to gain greater prominence across the country as an easier, more efficient and cheaper way to get from one place to the other. That prominence has led to increased scrutiny, however.

Many cities are trying to keep Transportation Network Companies – or TNCs – like Uber and Lyft from operating. The cities claim they are identical to taxis, and therefore should operate under the hoards of red tape that regulate that industry. Both Uber and Lyft argue they are different, and I would agree with them.

These companies contract with private individuals who drive their own vehicles, and it is all done through a cell phone app. This disruptive technology has created a better way to get around that isn’t subject to government overreach.

Whatever will the government regulators do?

Two cities – specifically Portland, Oregon, and my hometown of Madison, Wisconsin – have taken it upon themselves to sue Uber. Because that is what liberals do when they don’t get their way: They throw a tantrum and then file a lawsuit.

In Portland, it seems to have become personal. While the powers that be may admit TNCs will eventually be able to operate in their city legally, Portland’s Commissioner of the Bureau of Transportation, Steve Novick, wants to single out Uber and at a minimum keep them from operating.

“I don’t know if this is legally feasible, but my inclination would be to allow Lyft here a long time before Uber,” Mr. Novick said in a recent interview. “Lyft seems like a respectable company, and Uber seems like a bunch of thugs.”

The City of Madison and newly re-elected Mayor Paul Soglin seem more concerned that the free market – and not government – helped create a successful business.

At a recent hearing on the topic, Mr. Soglin said he had no room for “free enterprise nonsense in this discussion.”

In both cases, I am bewildered as to why cities would want to ban a successful business in their area. It creates jobs and provides cheaper, more efficient transportation to the cities’ residents.

The only reason to oppose Uber and Lyft is because a politician is beholden to the taxi industry’s lobbyists, or in Madison’s case, that the mayor just despises anything that has to do with private business and the free market.

Luckily, Wisconsin lawmakers are taking the necessary steps to authorize companies like Uber and Lyft to function statewide. The proposal is gaining bipartisan support and would likely allow TNCs to operate all across Wisconsin – including the City of Madison.

However, there is no doubt that these fights will continue in many other parts of the country, and I am sure there will be varied outcomes. The entrepreneurs at Uber, Lyft and other companies like them need to push on, though. To them I say: Serve your customers, not the big-government special interests.

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