Helen Aguirre Ferre

Standing in the way of progress

Technology companies that are having difficulty penetrating into new markets because of government restrictions are finding a new ally in the GOP. According to The Wall Street Journal, Republicans are looking to become the champions of innovation supporting upstart technology companies that are disrupting traditional industries that have long been overly protected by local and or state government.

Such is the case of Uber, the app-based service that connects passengers to a car with just the press of a button, sidestepping the hassle of hailing a taxi. It has been welcomed and successful in many cities, but in Florida only Jacksonville has approved its use.

On Monday, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio visited Uber’s Washington, D. C., offices to tout that the company was successful in the nation’s capital but not without having to fight a tough battle against the taxi industry and its powerful lobby. He hailed the importance of this type of technological innovation as an example of American ingenuity and a driving force of the U.S. economy.

“Regulation should never be a weapon used by connected and established industry to crowd out innovation and competition, and this is a real world example,” he said.

But that is exactly what is occurring in Rubio’s back yard, where healthy competition in transportation is being strangled by over-regulation of the traditional taxi and limousine industry — thanks to two Miami-Dade commissioners, Dennis Moss and Bruno Barreiro, who are, respectively, chair and vice chair the transportation committee, which regulates these industries, much to the detriment not only of new industry but also of residents and tourists.

Uber, which operates in 37 cities throughout the country, connects professional, independent car drivers to passengers who want a more-immediate or luxurious driving experience. But Uber is roadblocked because it and other companies such as Lyft would create competition that could give taxi and limousine services a run for the money.

These services are local monopolies in a highly regulated industry that block out competition. Miami-Dade County limits the number of cars that can be rented on an hourly basis, for example. But do not think this only occurs in South Florida. In Orlando, a taxicab cannot pick up a customer until 55 minutes after being called. Uber pulled out of Tampa because the Public Transportation Commission ruled that the minimum fare it could charge was $50. Price controls are the antithesis of innovation.

Get the picture?

The idea is to protect an industry with artificially inflated prices that keep it insulated from competition. If the streets were open to fair-market forces, it is likely many of these traditional services would either have to modernize (including the use of credit/debit cards) or go out of business.

Two Republicans in Tallahassee are working to strip local governments of their authority to impede the introduction of new industries in metropolitan areas. State Sen. Jeff Brandes, from St. Petersburg, and Rep. James Grant, of Tampa, have filed companion bills that limit the power of county governments to impose various forms of regulations, including setting minimum fees. They are rightly fighting barriers to innovation and competition.

But they are also likely responding to the education received from a whopping 22 registered lobbyists working on behalf of Uber.

How odd that Miami-Dade commissioners look to sports stadiums and the expansion of casino gambling as necessary components of a world-class destination while hampering Miami’s opportunities to transform itself into a technological hub for innovative services and industries.

If change were to come it would be because, in great part, of Tallahassee’s intervention. How ironic that Uber, whose high-tech alternative transportation service is changing the way cities work is fighting its legislative battles the old-fashioned way: heavily lobbying legislators, one vote at a time.