By Christina Walsh
Sometimes the fight for freedom requires a bold and public statement. That was the case in Nashville, Tenn., where the Institute for Justice and our clients staged a “Freedom Ride” around the Metro Council building in July to protest the anti-competitive regulations recently imposed on limousine and luxury sedan drivers. More than 30 limousines and luxury sedans formed a parade of vehicles and repeatedly circled the Metro Council building to call attention to the bright red, white and blue banners on the side of their vehicles that read, “Tell Nashville: Let Me Charge You Less.”
Until 2010, independent limo and sedan companies in Nashville provided consumers with an affordable alternative to taxicabs, charging moderate fares for superior service. Companies like Metro Livery, owned by IJ client Ali Bokhari, provide luxury transportation on par with high-end limo services for a fraction of the cost. The higher-priced limo companies sought protection from this popular form of competition; they formed the Tennessee Livery Association (TennLA) and successfully lobbied Nashville’s Metro County Council to pass laws aimed at putting entrepreneurs like Ali out of business. The most harmful provision requires sedan and independent limo companies to charge a minimum fare of $45. Previously, a trip to the airport cost only $25. In April 2011, the Institute for Justice sued Nashville in federal court challenging the new, anti-competitive laws.
To spark the push for legislative reform by the Metro Council, IJ hosted a town hall meeting for drivers, their customers and local activists. IJ Staff Attorney Wesley Hottot, our client Ali and I discussed Nashville’s assault on the limo industry, economic liberty, protectionism and what Nashvillians can do to fight back. Members of TennLA attended and heard our message of liberty, as did passionate and angry customers who are now prepared to mobilize around future legislative efforts. We followed that meeting with our even bolder statement in the Freedom Ride. With television camera crews recording, the drivers brought public attention to the controversy and set the terms of the debate: The new limousine laws aren’t about protecting the customer’s safety; these laws are about forcing higher prices on customers and driving competition out of business.
Regardless of these self-serving political moves, the Institute for Justice will continue to fight back against the war on Nashville’s affordable limo and sedan industry in the courts of law and public opinion until the protectionist regulations are struck down and limo operators like Ali can return to putting people to work and taking people to work.
Christina Walsh is IJ’s director of activism and coalitions.