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Surge pricing? How about surge fines: Pennsylvania orders Uber to cough up $11.4m



As a disclaimer, I very rarely use taxis, except when on business trips or short vacations, taking them to/from interstate/international airports.

That out of the way, I find it a curious position to take that, just because laws and regulations are slow to change, this justifies breaking them. Not that I am suggesting that you are taking that stance - just that I see it a lot in people who support and applaud Uber.

Back when I was younger and going out with my (then childless) friends, sometimes the taxi situation would be painful enough that we'd just stay out until the trains started running again or potentially cut an otherwise good night short in order to catch the last train. I've also seen fights start over taxis and had taxis I've booked never turn up, only to be told, when calling them back, that the taxi arrived but I wasn't there - despite the location being unambiguous and me standing there, waiting.

But none of that makes it somehow more acceptable for Uber to operate in violation of the existing laws and regulations.

Yes, laws and regulations are supposed to exist to improve society for everyone and thus should - where possible - represent the values and needs of the people. But, again, the failure of laws to match the expectations of the people is not justification for a multi-billion dollar company to break them - no matter how innovative the service. Nor does calling it 'disruptive' mean it gets a free pass.

And, while I am not often a fan of the way law-makers and regulators work, the hard truth is that sometimes there are good reason for laws that appear - even to a majority of people - to be pointless, overly-restrictive or that throw up miles of red tape, slowing innovation and adoption of potentially beneficial technology and advances.

Take the FDA.

Now, it is probably true that some things have been allowed which shouldn't have been and that some thing which should be, haven't been. Or that some are expedited and others held up by bureaucratic pettiness and inefficiencies. But you only need look to Theranos to understand that the sometimes frustrating regulations exist for a good reason, which is the safety of patients.

Is Uber and transport regulations the same? No. But, it is clear that, for a taxi system to work, the public must have faith that the vehicles they are getting in to are safe adequately insured and the drivers they are trusting their lives to are up to the task and of good character.

At this point, an Uber support may counter that Uber runs comprehensive checks and has clear regulations that accomplish this task. It may also be asserted that checks and regulations are not guarantee of a safe taxi ride either, possible accompanied by anecdotes of personal bad experiences in taxis.

Well and good, but there is a crucial point that needs to be made, which is that any such checks and regulations - and the thresholds for acceptance and rejection - are at Uber's discretion. I hasten to add that this doesn't make Uber less safe and taxis more safe but it's an important point that needs to be acknowledged.

What Uber are doing (in most locations) is equivalent to running a service to let people book unlicensed builders. In that situation, no amount of complaining that there aren't enough licensed builders - or that they are late or expensive or of poor quality - would change the fact that the service would be operating a marketplace for the purpose of being paid to hire out unlicensed tradespeople.

I'm glad that people are happy about Uber but customer satisfaction does not make something legal.

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