Tag Archives: Washington Examiner

D.C. tries again to protect taxi industry from competition

Last year, the D.C. City Council threatened to impose regulations that would have effectively barred Uber, the popular sedan-hailing car company, from the D.C. market. In a surprising show of candor, the proposed legislation admitted that the goal was to ensure that the politically powerful taxi lobby didn’t lose any business. Public reaction was swift and negative and the council eventually relented, letting Uber into the market.

While many were celebrating, I played the part of the skeptic, noting that Uber’s gain seemed to have come at the expense of other start-up transportation companies. Writing in the Washington Examiner, I noted:

But when you dig into the legislation, it appears that the council earned Uber’s praise by — you guessed it — finding a way to privilege Uber. That’s because the legislation mandates that “public vehicles-for-hire using a digital dispatch service shall be licensed.”

As tech reporter Ryan Lawler points out, the licensing requirement erects a barrier to entry for other businesses. SideCar, for example, is a West Coast service that, according to its website, “instantly connects people with extra space in their cars with those who need to get from one place to another.” It is, they say, “like a quick and hassle-free carpool.” Since these instant carpoolers are obviously not licensed, they’d be illegal in DC. That’s handy for Uber. The company managed to cross the regulatory velvet rope and, alongside taxis, obtain access to a lucrative market. But once inside, Uber put the rope back up.

I’m sorry to say that my skepticism was warranted. This morning, WAMU’s Martin Di Caro reported:

The commission that regulates all vehicle-for-hire services in the District of Columbia once again finds itself at odds with a tech start-up.  After battling the sedan service Uber in 2012 before creating a sedan class license to allow the company to operate legally in the District, the Taxicab Commission has notified SideCar management that its drivers may not pick up passengers in D.C. without the proper licenses and vehicle tags.

“Individuals who join this rideshare operation must be licensed taxicab or limousine drivers in the District of Columbia and must have vehicles that have L tags,” said Commission Chairman Ron Linton.

You can listen to the full story here.

Will Divided Government be Smaller Government?

This chart suggests that divided governments don’t increase spending as much as united governments (the result holds even if you ignore Obama):

As Bryan Caplan has noted, my colleague Steve Slivinski’s book sheds light on this. It is called Buck Wild: How Republicans Broke the Bank and Became the Party of Big Government. Steve recently had an article in the Washington Examiner that breaks the numbers down slightly differently than I (he accounts for population changes by using per capita figures). The result is the same.

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Addendum: This post sparked a spirited facebook debate between Jeremy Horpedahl and Stephen Miller. Steve helpfully points to this paper by Niskanen and Peter Van Doren. See, also, this piece by Niskanen.

Fairfax County Considers Move to 401(k)s

Via the Washington Examiner, yesterday two Fairfax County Supervisors suggested moving employees from a defined benefit pension to a 401(k) retirement plan.

“A dip in the stock market can cause an immediate and unexpected need for an employer — in our case the government — to increase their contribution to the retirement fund,” [Supervisor Pat] Herrity said. “We all know there are only two ways to pay for [retirement funding shortages]: cut something else in the budget or raise taxes.”

Allowing easier forecasting for retirement payments, defined-contribution plans such as 401(k)s have become more popular with employers and governments in recent years. Montgomery County employs such a system.

Dan, Eileen and I have written before on the problems with defined benefit systems, but it looks like some of our neighbors haven’t been paying attention.

“We’re not making the salaries we would be making in comparable private positions,” [Fairfax County Government Employees Union President Karen Conchar] said. “You’d end up with a less motivated staff if you went to a defined-contribution-type plan. It would not be good.”

Ms. Conchar is flatly wrong on all three points. First, nationwide, public employees make significantly more than the private workers who provide for their retirement.

The only possible explanation for Mrs. Conchar’s claim would be specific to Fairfax County, which is one of the largest and wealthiest places in the country, and likely an outlier to national data. Even given that, it’s strange to complain about living in an uber-prosperous area.

Second, can anyone explicate the perverse incentives that would explain her “less motivated” remark? 401(k)s force employees to take a responsible and accountable role in providing for their own retirement, without the risk that unions or legislatures will use pension plan trust funds as political slush funds. When are people more motivated: when they have incentives to act responsibly and care about something, or when they’re given unconditional promises?

Lastly, it would be a good move, saving Fairfax taxpayers money, and providing a more secure retirement for public servants. Everybody wins.

The Speed Camera Wars

The Washington Examiner reports that D.C. police are frustrated by new technology that allows drivers to pinpoint and avoid speed and red-light cameras. The technology, called PhatomAlert, streams to iPhones and GPS devices, sounding an alarm as drivers get close to cameras. Radar detection devices are illegal in D.C. and Virginia, but outlawing these devices may prove impossible.

D.C. police say their 290 cameras, first installed in 1999, have saved lives. Studies of the effectiveness of cameras on road safety offer conflicting data. The Governors Highway Safety Association says they’ve reduced violations and crashes.  The Virginia Transportation Research Council says they increase rear-end crashes.

Others argue cameras are more of a revenue trap for government, and they are used in bad faith; for example, citizens in Denver contend yellow lights were shortened to increase fines.

Photo radar tickets generated $1 billion in revenue between 2005 and 2008 for the District. In Maryland, Montgomery County’s cameras are expected to generate $29 million this fiscal year.

Anti-camera sentiment has led to lawsuits — motorists in Washington state are suing for being fined excessively for violations caught on traffic camera. And worse: a man in Glendale, Arizona took a pick axe to a speeding camera. He was fined $3,500.