Sarasota Deregulates Taxi Industry

In a bold move last Tuesday evening after just one hour of discussion, Sarasota City Commissioners voted unanimously to deregulate all for-hire vehicle services in the city, removing the barriers that taxi drivers complained gave ridesharing services like Uber an unfair advantage. Now all drivers, including taxi cabbies, can conduct their business without government interference.

The city had been planning to regulate Uber and other ridesharing companies by requiring them to obtain the same insurance and licenses as taxicabs. But, Commissioner Liz Alpertmotioned to scrap all existing regulations on for-hire vehicles after the city attorney confirmed that the city would face no liability if they opted to let the free market run its course.

The freedom vibe was strong at the meeting. From Your Observer:

Although Parking Manager Mark Lyons was in favor of stronger background checks, insurance requirements and vehicle standards relative to what Uber has in place, the City Commission generally expressed a feeling that the industry would simply regulate itself.

“If they don’t have these things, they’re going to be out of business,” Commissioner Liz Alpert said.

As Uber drivers and commissioners hailed the employment opportunities offered by transportation network companies, Vice Mayor Suzanne Atwell also voiced support for the move: “We shouldn’t be defending the taxicabs against their competitors…What happens is, you get into the territory of over-regulating and legislating the market. That’s not what we should be doing.”

The vote is a resounding victory for economic liberty and a testament to the power of the grassroots to enact meaningful reforms at the local level. Before showing up in force to the meeting, Uber supporters had sent over a thousand emails to the City Commission asking to let drivers work in peace.

The city’s decision met with criticism from some of the newly-deregulated taxi companies. Yellow Cab of Sarasota has said they are “deeply troubled” by the commission’s vote, claiming it opens the door to predatory pricing and lets dangerous criminals get behind the wheel.

Of course, it is in the best business and legal interests of vehicle-for-hire services to have an adequate level of insurance and conduct appropriate background checks on their drivers. This suggests that members of the taxi industry that are disgruntled by this vote are more concerned about preserving their ability to win special favors and protection from the government.

Thankfully, corporate cronies have lost this round. Congratulations to the city of Sarasota for their inspired response to calls for more government regulation!

— Josh Jones

Josh Jones is a Maffucci Fellow at the Institute for Justice

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