Embracing innovation and our sharing economy

The recent class-action lawsuit and $20,000 in fines levied by the California Public Utilities Commission on Uber and other popular ride-sharing services was, in my opinion, the wrong course of action to address one of the most innovative and popular consumer services that has begun to prosper in our city.

We all have horror stories about long waits for taxicabs in San Francisco, or worse, being stood up and having to miss important meetings, or time with family and friends. In the era of smartphones, our taxi dispatch system is quickly becoming outdated, and technology has enabled innovative solutions.

In government, we should embrace these innovations, not fear them. Our regulations must continue to protect consumers, but also must adapt to shifts in technology and consumer demand in order to stay in tune with the times.

Over the past year, one of the biggest advancements in the technology community has been the burgeoning “sharing economy,” which is revolutionizing many parts of our lives. For the car service industry, Uber and the other popular ride-sharing services are leading the charge in the sharing economy and have truly revolutionized consumer behavior.

Instead of calling ahead for a taxicab that may or may not arrive on time, why not tap a few buttons on your smartphone and receive text messages letting you know exactly when your Uber car will arrive? Why be forced to provide a physical address to a central dispatch system when Uber can locate you seamlessly through GPS?

In City Hall, I sit on the Sharing Economy Working Group, which is specifically organized to ensure our city government is embracing these ideas and companies who are driving the sharing economy locally, and not letting red tape stand in the way of innovation. We’re taking this technology evolution very seriously, and believe every level of government should do the same. San Francisco in particular has a unique opportunity to harness the booming technology industry in our city, and embrace technology services and platforms that not only improve the everyday lives of our residents, but the way we operate our government as well.

As this debate rolls on specifically around Uber and the other ride-sharing services, we have to be extremely mindful not to demonize or blame taxicab drivers who are simply trying to make a living. The drivers who filed the class-action lawsuit work long hours and endure a challenging work environment to provide for their families, and I believe our city government should continue to promote the growth and health of our local taxicab industry.

However, that doesn’t mean stifling new business models or discouraging innovation. Technology has cleared the path for new companies such as Uber and the other ride-sharing services to find creative ways to offer competitive and efficient options for local transportation. Both elected officials and regulators should support small-business innovation — it is something to embrace, not run away from. Threatening these companies with excessive fines and shutting them down ultimately does a disservice to the constituency that government aims to serve — the general public. We should all demand better.

Mark Farrell is the supervisor for District 2, which covers neighborhoods on the northern side of The City.

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