The state exists as a legitimate and definitive monopoly on violent force. Great political thinkers have always understood this principle, and the Western liberal tradition has placed specific constraints upon the use of the state’s force. In general, those who believe in the secular, democratic, and liberal tradition agree that the state has a right to use violent force in order to protect the right to life, the right to liberty, and the right to property.
The Spanish government now faces a clear choice: they can use their authority to protect the right of Uber and Cabify to operate as legitimate business concerns, and they can use their authority to protect Uber and Cabify drivers’ and passengers’ right to liberty and property. On the contrary, they can cave to the demands of the taxi unions, and take away the right of the Spanish people to make their own decisions about transportation.
Let us briefly review how we got to this point. For decades, taxi unions existed as a monopoly, endowed by the state, which in turn lavishly funded the campaigns of politicians ready, willing, and able to perpetuate that monopoly. With the rise of the internet, smart phones, and software applications, new competition emerged that began to challenge the taxi industry.
Tired of decades of poor service, sky high prices, dangerous driving, rude and insolent drivers, and frequent overcharging and cheating of customers, the people spoke loudly and clearly: companies like Uber, Cabify, and Lyft took off around the world, providing consumers with affordable, safe, and reliable transportation. The market rejected taxi cabs and endorsed ride-sharing applications in a big way.
Uber is too big and too successful, and too loved by consumers, to be stopped. Yes, individual cities or countries can temporarily restrict it, ban it, harass it, or threaten it, but Uber is not going away. Witness the recent attempt by the city of London to ban Uber, and it will become readily apparent that doing so is a fool’s errand. But that doesn’t mean that the taxi drivers will not fight back.
To that end, over the past week, beginning in Barcelona, spreading to Madrid, and then nationwide, the taxi drivers have done everything in their power to shut down the country: closing highways, blocking airports, bus stations, and rail terminals, impeding major intersections. That, of course, is a matter of civil disobedience. But many have not stopped there. Enraged at facing competition and declining ridership, mere civil disobedience is not enough. Now, they have taken to assaulting Uber drivers and passengers, and destroying private property.
Many Spanish political parties have come to Uber’s aid, but the socialist Podemos party has loudly defended the taxi unions: Podemos official Rafael Mayoral stated “we need to defend the taxi as a public service against the attacks from the financial vultures.”
This is typical of the convoluted thinking of many on the left who oppose ride-sharing apps, and support taxi unions: ride-sharing companies are vultures, taking advantage of others, while taxi unions are heroically defending the little guy.
Nothing could be further from the truth. It is precisely the “little guy”: working class and middle class people, who so greatly benefit from the services provided by Uber. Cab service was once available only for the wealthy, or as a special treat born out of absolute necessity.
Now, anyone with a full-time job can reasonably expect to be able to pay for an Uber, Cabify, or Lyft, to get home whenever and wherever they so desire.
Consider the following cases:
A struggling cocktail waitress who works late night shifts and lives in marginal part of town, who before could only take a long subway ride, and then walk seven blocks through darkened streets at 3am, can now take a $10 Uber ride home.
A tourist in an unfamiliar city, unable to speak the local language, can now order up a car service with the click of a button and explore the sights at their leisure.
A suburban couple, eager for a night out on the town, without worrying about the hassles of driving and parking, can now order up a Lyft for basically the same amount that they would have spent on parking, gas, and tolls, and have reliable safe two-way transportation for the entertainment, dining, and nightlife options in a major city.
Virtually everyone (who has not been living in a cave for the past decade) has seen how wonderful ride-sharing services are for the working people. And outside of North Korea or Syria, such services are only going to increase and expand.
It is high time for the Spanish government to take a clear and firm stand against the aggression of the Spanish taxi drivers’ unions. It is also high time for them to guarantee legislation that explicitly legalizes free-market competition in the transportation sector, and no longer confers special monopoly privileges upon the taxi sector.
Politicians who get in the way of Uber and other ride-sharing services do so at their own peril. They are popular across the political spectrum, and they are here to stay!