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Utah — don't take a U-turn away from ride-sharing

A TRAX train travels trough downtown Salt Lake City, Monday, Aug. 25, 2014.
A TRAX train travels trough downtown Salt Lake City, Monday, Aug. 25, 2014.
Ravell Call, Deseret News

Ride-sharing companies like Lyft, Uber and Sidecar are transforming how we travel. Every day, ride-sharing provides Utah with rides on demand via the press of a button, and these rides come with the safety and security of knowing the driver’s name, photo and ratings.

These services allow Utah citizens to turn their cars into a source of income. Their presence reduces traffic congestion and DUIs. And these services illuminated the inadequacies of a taxicab system that has not changed much since the introduction of the Model T.

But rather than looking in the mirror at their own deficiencies and taking the opportunity to improve, the taxicab monopoly has cried foul and decided to blame its troubles on the marketplace. One of the biggest criticisms from the taxi industry is that ride-sharing companies are “playing by a different set of rules and regulations.”

Earlier this year, Utah passed SB294, which created a common sense regulatory framework requiring ride-sharing drivers to comply with the same insurance requirements as taxis.

But ride-sharing detractors don’t really want a level playing field, they instead want a playing field so slanted that ride-sharing companies slide out of the state. So lobbyists and special-interest groups recently introduced HB24 in an effort to replace SB294’s sensible and balanced requirements with ones favoring incumbent monopolies.

Currently, Utah requires taxicab and ride-sharing drivers to carry liability insurance. But HB24 will change this parity by requiring ride-sharing drivers to carry both liability insurance and comprehensive and collision coverages, a requirement found nowhere else in the nation.

Basically, if HB24 becomes law, ride-sharing drivers will have to carry more insurance than a taxi driver and, in some cases, ride-sharing drivers must carry double. Is this level? Is this equal? Or is HB24 slanting the transportation landscape in favor of those who oppose ride-sharing companies.

Perhaps the special interests trying to pass HB24 know that when a similar bill became law in Kansas, despite the governor’s veto, ride-sharing companies left the state.

Utah’s laws should be used to create a business climate that keeps consumers safe while also encouraging healthy economic competition. State legislators have done a good job to date by sensibly regulating the ride-sharing industry. But for Utah citizens, HB24 represents snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Carl Szabo is policy counsel for NetChoice, a trade association of eCommerce businesses and online consumers, all of whom share the goal of promoting convenience, choice and commerce on the Internet.