By Ben DeGrow | Special to Colorado Watchdog
DENVER — Once again Coloradans are forced to scratch their heads and wonder: Who put the “public” in the Public Utilities Commission?
The three-member commission, appointed by the Governor’s Office, holds sway over a lot of economic activity in the state. One area of PUC’s authority is “motor carrier utilities that are for hire.”
Want to operate a taxi service that benefits people living in or traveling through Denver?
Not so fast. Ask the would-be proprietors of Mile High Cab Inc., waiting almost four years now for the Colorado court system to overturn PUC’s decision that the cab company’s entry into the public transportation market would create too much competition. Say what?
As former Rocky Mountain News journalist Peter Blake highlights in a new column for the Colorado News Agency, PUC is at it again, shutting down Rideorama, the short-lived business of four young Boulder-based entrepreneurs offering an innovative ride-sharing service between Boulder and Denver International Airport.
Blake explains how PUC rescinded an original ruling that Rideorama was not subject to its regulation and instead threatened Rideorama with $13,000 in fines and prosecution.
The plight of Rideorama and Mile High Cab, not to mention their many customers and potential customers, is far from a new phenomenon. In the 1993 Independence Institute issue paper titled “Taken for a Ride,” Dwight Filley expounded on then a half-century’s worth of taxi cartel power wielded against the public interest.
Sadly, we have no real reason to believe PUC’s current commissioners — all appointed by Democratic governors, including two by Gov. John Hickenlooper — will do anything to disrupt the ancient trend. Nor can we foresee in the near future what a Legislature might do to break the power and open up the market to consumer-friendly competition, though last year’s audit of PUC gives some small measure of hope.
On the one hand, President Barack Obama proclaims to successful small business owners that they “didn’t build that.” Meanwhile, the painful stories of forestalled businesses remind us that some Colorado bureaucrats are still hard at work telling entrepreneurs with promising plans that they “can’t build that.” It hurts not just the Mile High Cabs and Rideoramas, but also the public interest in convenience and competitive services.