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Chron for Uber

The Chron editorializes in favor of Council approving a change to city ordinances that would allow Uber to set up shop here.

Uber, a car service software company, wants to start operating in Houston so that folks can reserve Town Cars via their smart phones. Unfortunately, city ordinances place strict prohibitions on how taxi, Town Car and limousine services operate within city limits. This is a great policy if you’re a taxi company trying to avoid competition. But, as with most regulatory capture, it doesn’t really benefit anyone else.

Houston is supposed to be fertile ground for entrepreneurs and a prime example of a free market. City Council should live up to that promise and update Chapter 46 of the City of Houston Code of Ordinances to let businesses like Uber operate in Houston.

In dozens of cities (including Dallas), Uber allows people to use a smart phone application to arrange rides with otherwise unoccupied Town Cars. Think of it as an Orbitz or Expedia for car service companies. Riders can even use the app to review specific drivers and get an estimate on a trip’s cost before riding, which is tracked by GPS.

Houston’s regulations prevent Town Cars from charging less than $70 and require that rides be arranged at least minutes in advance. So if you wanted to use Uber to book a ride from a Mont-rose restaurant to the Theater District, the city would require that you overpay and wait 30 minutes, even if there is a car around the corner.

These restrictions serve no purpose but to force Houstonians to take taxis, and unless you’re in downtown or at a hotel, taxis may as well not exist in Houston. Sure, you could reserve a pick-up, but at that point they’re not really acting as cabs. They’re acting as inexpensive Town Cars, but for the guaranteed pick-up and quality of service.

See here and here for previous blogging on the subject. I don’t have much to add at this time, but as you know I am generally in agreement with the Chron on this. The taxi folks have set up a meeting for several of us local bloggers to present their perspective on things, as I noted in my last entry, and I’ll be sure to report on that afterward. In the meantime, two points to note. One is that there is already an app to hail a cab in Houston. I couldn’t tell you the last time I took a cab in Houston, so I have no experience with this. Have you ever used it? Also, in the course of my normal Internet surfing I came across this account of using Uber by Mark Evanier. Executive summary: He really liked it. Make of that what you will.

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2 Comments

  1. Judy Kay Craft says:

    I no longer drive because of medical issues and do occasionally take cabs in Houston, when my husband isn’t available to give me rides. I have the used the hail a cab app on my iPhone for 4 of my last 7 cab trips. It doesn’t work that much better than just calling one of the cab companies directly. Even with the GPS function, the drivers have problems finding me unless I am downtown. Once, the app left me pending for over 15 minutes without assigning a cab to me, so I telephoned a different cab company. What works best in Houston when you need to be picked up outside of downtown is to pre-schedule, whether by phone, website, or the app. In Houston you can get a Lincoln Town Car at the same rate as a regular cab just by using the Towne Car service. I prefer them because they are always clean and non-smoking.

  2. Robert says:

    I just used UBER last night in Boston…. AMAZING… I’ll echo Mark Evanier’s enthusiasm for it… I hope Houston gets with the program!