Executive Director Dave Oberting comments on the ongoing Taxis v. Uber battle here in the District in this WUSA9 story by reporter Mola Lenghi.


Economic Growth DC likes to participate in the Uber vs. Taxi industry war because we see it as a proxy for a larger debate over how we regulate in a time of technological disruption.

The primary conflict in the District arises from the DC Taxicab Commission misconstruing its role as a regulator. Taxi commissioner Ron Linton has been quoted in the past claiming that he has an industry to “protect.”

But that’s just not the proper role of a regulator. A regulator’s job is to protect consumers by maintaining a level playing field and providing them the benefits of choice and competition. Rather than smothering Uber like Kurt Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron, they should throw out the rule book for taxis and start over.

The regulatory architecture that governs our taxi industry was created decades ago. It’s no longer relevant in a modern age. They should try again to develop a framework that frees the taxis to compete on equal terms.

Uber v. Taxis is today’s battle, but what happens in six months when the automation of the District’s restaurant industry blows up? A restaurant with iPads on every table requires a wait staff about half the size of a store without them. Want to see the rate of automation double? Triple the tipped minimum wage like activists want and the transition will move into overdrive.

And wait till the driverless car gets here in earnest. It’s only a matter of time before they become so proficient and so safe that they won’t require a human in the front seat. At that point ALL taxi drivers, ALL Uber drivers, and two million long haul truckers become obsolete.

We’ve been substituting technology for labor since the invention of the wheel. 150 years ago, 80% of Americans worked in agriculture. Through automation, it’s down to 2%, and that’s been remarkably good for society. It has freed up millions of Americans to pursue more productive activity — including the invention of technology like Uber. Silicon Valley would not exist without the plow horse.

As we’re seeing around the world with ridesharing, governments can slow these developments for a while, but they cannot be stopped. Technology wins in the end.

So, for us at Economic Growth DC, the question is what do you do about it?

There are two imperatives:

We must have a local economy that grows significantly faster than it has for the last decade. A faster growing economy is the only means by which we create the number and kinds of jobs (at all skill levels) that we’ll need to replace those that are automated. As a taxi job goes away, we have to be able to create another middle-class job that provides equal or greater pay — like a technically skilled  job maintaining and repairing driverless cars.

And, we must dramatically (and quickly) improve the way that we educate and train our workforce so that they are properly prepared for the middle-wage jobs that will exist in the first half of the 21st century. This means doing everything better: K-12, vocational education, technical education, apprenticeships and employer-driven job training programs that prepare people for the future, not the past.

It’s either going to be Xanadu or Thunderdome, but we get to choose.