Sunday, January 02, 2005

Enough of cab drivers answering back, in the language far from pure

Manhattan cabbies like a controlled cartel for their services, thankyouverymuch: At first, the giant tricycles did not seem quite so threatening. Pedicabs were more of a novelty than a legitimate mode of transport when a group of environmentalists and artists in Manhattan began pedaling them - and peddling rides on them - nine years ago. But in the past two years, according to unofficial estimates, the number of pedicabs has nearly doubled [...] Cornelius P. Byrne, who inherited his father's stable and hackney carriages in 1964, said the pedicab operators were jeopardizing his livelihood. "These guys have just gone out into the streets, and nobody's questioned them," Mr. Byrne said. "It's kind of crazy. Nobody is asking if it's right, or legal." Yes, how dare they? How dare someone offer a competitive option for transport in a free market? I'm not against regulation, to establish and enforce some sort of industry standards, but Mr. Byrne seems long lost to the big government mindset: anything not explicitly regulated must be somehow bordering on illegality. The real issue is the threat to established cab companies. I recall several years ago, when the constituent cities making up the Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton began the long and agonizing process of amalgamation, a similar argument taking place. The old cities of Ottawa and Gloucester tightly controlled taxi licenses, so they were rare and overvalued; Kanata, Nepean, and Orleans were somewhat freer in their issue. Many drivers spent thousands of dollars investing in a private purchase of the license from existing owners, in order to have regular access to the lucrative airport and downtown markets. When amalgamation occurred, the licensing regulations were rationalized, and the artificial overvaluation of individual licenses crashed. Those drivers thought they'd made an investment, and would be protected from competition by the rarity of the same. They survived the sudden influx of competition. (It's still not fun getting a cab anywhere in town, however.) I'm sure New York's cabbies - the very apotheosis of the species - will, too. The market copes. It's amazing how many people don't realize that.

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