DeGROW: Two apps from different worlds embrace competition

By   /   September 7, 2012  /   Comments Off on DeGROW: Two apps from different worlds embrace competition

By Ben DeGrow | Special to Colorado Watchdog

Ben DeGrow

Want to prevent competition by adding regulations to Denver metro area transportation? You may need an application for that.

(H/T Complete Colorado) Colorado News Agency‘s Peter Blake covers the latest case of ruffled feathers in the “taxi cartel” — not over another potential entrant into the cab market but over a new digital mobile app that enables consumers to connect quickly with a high-end ride.

The app, Uber, has raised the hackles of “at least one” of the Denver area’s four taxicab companies enough to contact the Public Utilities Commission with its concerns. Max Sarr, of Freedom Cabs, told the Denver Post that the concerns emanate from issues of “safety and liability,” but Blake notes that Uber performs background checks of partner limousine companies to guarantee they are properly bonded and insured.

So far PUC, a three-member appointed body with a history of thwarting competitive economic activity, has declined to intervene. But Uber has retained local attorneys — just in case. One can only hope that the good deed of a convenient service appreciated by customers would, in fact, go unpunished. After all, a high-end ride through Uber is a little pricier than what the taxicabs offer.

Blake closes his column with a salient point:

There is, of course, nothing to prevent the taxi companies from competing by establishing their own apps. But history tells us that too often they prefer using the force of law to limit competition instead of exploiting new technology.

Maybe, then, the heavily regulated taxi companies and PUC could take a lesson from the Douglas County School District.

Demonstrating a fearless attitude about competition, the Dougco school board most famously adopted the groundbreaking pilot Choice Scholarship Program, which expanded parental private education options, part of a “Blueprint for Choice.” (Currently under injunction, the program has a hearing before the Colorado Court of Appeals scheduled for Oct. 15.) The district also has created a parent-friendly School Choice Selector Tool to help families find educational settings that best serve their needs.

A Denver 9News story a few weeks back tells the story of Dougco parent Sandy Haworth bringing forward the idea of a school app, partnering with district leaders and nonprofit funders to make the service to families a reality. The app is the first of its kind in Colorado K-12 education.

Most of the practical information a parent could hope for is now readily available on their smartphone or tablet — from notifications for snow days and school emergencies to school calendars, lunch menus and updates on student progress. And as Haworth and school superintendent Elizabeth Fagen shared with me in a recent radio interview on AM 1310 KFKA, feedback is pouring in from parents who can envision all sorts of improved functionality.

Dougco’s forward-thinking approach makes common sense, as digital apps pervade so many areas of our lives. If transportation entrepreneurs and a public school district can find a way to provide this kind of service to its customers, why not heavily-regulated taxi operators?

The only potential threat might be to the power of PUC.