Rubio climbs aboard Uber’s car service bandwagon

McClatchy Washington BureauMarch 24, 2014 

— Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio on Monday called for an end to local regulations that, he said, impede the success of companies such as Uber, which uses a mobile app to help passengers find on-demand car services.

Rubio visited the technology company’s D.C. office Monday to highlight the way local government regulations can, he said, prevent competition among businesses. He emphasized that the only purpose of these regulations should be to protect consumers.

In Rubio’s home state of Florida, local regulations in many cities prevent Uber from operating there and competing with taxicabs. State legislation that would have lifted these restrictions _ which include a cap on luxury-car permits, minimum fare charges similar to those charged by taxis and a requirement that rides be arranged an hour in advance _ stalled in the Florida Legislature earlier this year.

“Regulation should always be used as a way to help the public and ensure safety; it should never be used as a tool of anti-competitive activity,” Rubio said. “We should never allow government power and government regulations to be used to protect an established incumbent industry at the expense of an innovative competitor.”

Uber operates in more than 80 cities around the world, including in Jacksonville, Fla. But in other Florida cities, restrictions pose a barrier for the company, which advertises quick pick-up times and affordable prices.

“In Orlando, if you call for a town car and it shows up in five minutes, you legally need to wait 55 minutes just to get in that car,” said Rachel Holt, Uber’s East Coast general manager, at Monday’s event. “In Tampa, if you want to take a ride down the block, it must cost $50.”

While regulations that protect the consumer are necessary, Rubio said, those that simply insulate established businesses or industries from competition are harmful. He compared the laws preventing Uber’s expansion into many Florida cities to hypothetical restrictions permitting DVDs and video cassettes to be sold or rented exclusively at stores such as Blockbuster.

“Imagine if that would have existed _ we’d never have Netflix or streaming or any of these capabilities that we have now,” Rubio said. “The same is happening in the transportation sector and multiple other places.”

Rubio said he is not directly involved with legislation on the state level in Florida, but believes the services offered by companies such as Uber are crucial for a healthy economy. Restricting their ability to operate would set a bad precedent for future tech companies with innovative business plans, he said.

“The price is ultimately paid by society and by our economy, not to mention the consumer,” Rubio said.

Email: lkirkwood@mcclatchydc.com

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