By James C. Courtovich
When President Lyndon Johnson announced the creation of the Transportation Department 48 years ago this month, he said that one of the agency’s goals would be to “bring new technology to every mode of transportation.” Nearly half a century later, Uber is doing just that, allowing customers to order and pay for trips on their smartphone. Satisfied passengers, drivers and investors are singing Uber’s tagline: Choice is a Beautiful Thing.
But choice threatens entrenched interests like cabdrivers, who are deploying intimidation tactics and red tape to protect their turf. An Uber driver I rode with recently in Miami told me that he’d received two $1,000 tickets in as many days for picking up passengers at the airport.
In January French cabdrivers smashed windows and slashed tires of Uber cars at a protest in Paris. Public Utility Commissions and Municipal Transit Agencies have issued “cease and desist” orders against Uber and competitors like Lyft. “You’re changing the way cities work,” Uber CEO and founder Travis Kalanick explained at a tech conference in May, “and that’s fundamentally a third rail.”
…He reminds me of legendary financier Ted Forstmann, with whom I worked, along with Wal-Mart’s John Walton, to provide $200 million in private scholarships to inner-city children. When we began the project in 1998, teachers, union leaders and their political benefactors said choice was a threat, much as cabdrivers say now. But as Forstmann used to say, “Monopolies invariably produce bad products at high prices.” The 1.3 million parents who applied for the scholarships illustrated the tremendous demand for alternatives…