I like and respect Greg Gottesman. But his recent GeekWire post about the upstart, out-of-state taxi companies — Hey, Seattle, why stop with ride-sharing? Cap these 10 other innovations while you’re at it— is way off base.
First, the idea that these taxi companies are some amazing innovation has no basis in fact. Sure, they’ve built an app. But everything else about them mirrors the companies they say they’re re-inventing.
Since there are already multiple apps for existing taxi companies, even their one claim to being a tech company isn’t an innovation! As has been stated amply elsewhere, their real innovation is in avoiding regulation and taxation.
Many people seem to think it’s all about protectionism, and, sure, that’s what existing taxi companies want. But it is a false dichotomy to say that you are either in favor of these new companies or you are being protectionist. I could care less about the existing taxi companies. I care about safety and equity.
If these uninspected and uninsured taxis are on the street, pedestrians are not protected. We know from experience in San Francisco, where a 6-year-old child died, that drivers’ personal insurance does not apply when they are driving for hire and these companies will claim they have no responsibility. The baby steps they’ve taken toward better insurance still fall far short of the legal requirements.
The Seattle city council has just given these previously illegal companies a huge gift — they’ve made them legal for now, at least in Seattle. The council should have banned them outright until they were willing to follow the laws on licensing, inspections, and insurance. I don’t see any excuse for them to be allowed to skirt the laws. They should be thankful that they even have a chance here.
Greg gave ten examples of misguided protectionism. Let’s look at some better, more accurate scenarios.
1. The USPS is old school. A new mailsharing startup has built an app to help deliver mail more efficiently. Since mailboxes are inconveniently located on the right side of streets, their drivers will drive on the wrong side of the road, but, clearly, those regulations shouldn’t apply since they built an app.
2. Petroleum companies are old school. A new fuelsharing startup has a system that allows anybody to put a gas station in their front yard, and they’ve built an app to help you find convenient gas 24/7. Think of the convenience! Of course, these fuelsharing houses shouldn’t have to follow regulations about installation, safety, pollution, gas taxes, and price gouging.
3. Microsoft is old school. A new software sharing startup has built an app that lets you get any other app you want, for free, including all those Microsoft apps. Laws about intellectual property, software piracy, etc., don’t apply to them because they built an app.
4. Hotels are old school. A new roomsharing startup lets anybody rent their rooms to anybody, with no concern for neighbors, local regulations, safety, inspections, etc. And, unfortunately, as we’ve seen recently, no concern for the owners or renters either.
5. PC hardware manufacturers are old school. A new chipsharing startup has built an app that lets people configure their own computer and get it delivered the next day. Since they built an app, they don’t need to follow regulations about manufacturing, electrical systems safety, pollution, etc.
6. Hospitals are old school. A new healthsharing startup allows anybody to be a doctor for anyone else. You don’t even need to go to med school to treat patients! Because they built an app, they and their “doctors” don’t need to abide by any laws about practicing medicine without a license.
7. Schools are old school. A new teachsharing startup allows anybody to get a high school or college degree in minutes. They built an app!
8. Cellular companies are old school. A new airsharing startup has built an app that lets users use relatively unused bands for better signals. They happen to be police and fire bands but they aren’t used much and the interference shouldn’t be too bad. Since they’ve built an app, they can use whatever wavelengths they want without having to follow any laws.
9. Amazon is old school, already. A new stuffsharing startup has built an app that lets you choose from items in Amazon’s warehouse and get it for a price lower than Amazon’s price. Their costs are really low because laws which might prevent them from raiding Amazon’s warehouses in the middle of the night don’t apply to them.
10. Movie theaters are old school. In fact, the whole movie industry is old school. A new moviesharing startup makes all movies available for free. In some places, they’ll even sneak you in the backdoor of a real theater and get you popcorn for free as part of the package. After all, laws about intellectual property, breaking and entering, trespassing, and even petty theft don’t apply to them — hey, they built an app!
Roy Leban is founder and CTO of Puzzazz, a puzzle technology company based in the Seattle area. The opinions expressed here are his own.