Recently, San Francisco's Municipal Transportation Agency announced the "greatest shortage in taxi drivers in at least six years."
The MTA publicly points its finger at ride-sharing services like Lyft, Uber and Sidecar. But while these services compete directly with cab companies, they are in completely different business worlds. Lyft and Uber are largely unregulated, new economy enterprises serving people with cell phones and income. Cab companies are treated like public utilities: heavily regulated, revenue-generators serving everyone equally. It's not a fair fight.
In 2007 I became a San Francisco taxi driver. The process was involved and expensive. I had to pay for two taxi classes -- one private and the other from the police department, and pay fees to the SF Taxi Commission, the City Tax Collector and a deposit with the taxi company -- totaling over $1,000 before I had picked up a single fare.
It's even worse for the taxi companies. They're accountable to at least five different city departments -- the MTA Taxi Division, Department of Weights and Measures, SFO Ground Transportation, Paratransit Coordinating Council and the SFPD. These agencies regulate every aspect of cab operations, from how many dispatchers are on duty to which vehicles are inspected. Ride-sharing services face none of this. Taxis can't win this competition and the real losers are the populations the apps never serve.
By blaming ride-sharing apps, the city and the MTA are taking the easy way out. The real, hard solution is reducing excessive regulation on the taxi industry.