Op-Ed

Ky. cities must not follow Austin on ousting Uber

Kelly L. Smith
Kelly L. Smith

The lessons for Kentucky coming from one Texas city involving Uber and Lyft would be sad and absurd if its actions hadn’t become such a joke.

Austin Mayor Steven Adler, who failed to provide the leadership needed to prevent his city from driving out the free-market ride-sharing companies, is now floating the idea of requiring a “validator badge” in order to force independent-minded local travelers to commute in the way local politicians and bureaucrats deem acceptable.

So what mode of travel would Austin’s government leadership accept? The most innovative transportation concepts offered by city governments within the past decade have been recreating the 1880s urban transit trolleys and free bicycle access — bicycles being that most modern and innovative of transportation ideas invented in 1817.

Thus you would think Austin would approve of anything it regulates, including its subsidized taxicab cartel. But you’d be wrong. With a black market for ride-sharing emerging, city officials now want to deregulate the local taxicab industry — the very cartel it regulated into power in the first place.

Speaking of power, why don’t the artistic and creative types who abound in Austin recognize when a city steals the ideas and innovative intellectual capital from people who turned one particular idea into the successful Uber enterprise?

Speaking of irony, Austin will host in June the Smart Cities Innovation Summit which, according to its online program, tackles such issues as “a dense network of public transit, carpooling and car-sharing services such as Carma, Car2Go and Zipcar …”

It’s clear that Austin wants to play at being the “invisible hand” of commerce and pick winners and losers. But if you’re the creative, artsy type and want to see real free-market innovation, skip Austin and head to Grand Rapids, Mich., where the power of the marketplace on the art scene is unleashed annually via the privately sponsored ArtPrize. The entire city for more than two weeks each year becomes an interactive art gallery with the largest publicly attended exhibit on the globe. You can even use Uber to hop from one exhibit to the next.

Let’s hope Kentucky does a better job of protecting the freedom of its artsy and creative entrepreneurs to pursue their dreams and grow successful — maybe with innovative craft beers, new distilleries and even more rideshare apps.

Kelly L. Smith is vice president of strategic partners for the Bluegrass Institute, a free-market think tank. Reach her at ksmith@freedomkentucky.com.

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