Facebook’s warning for taxi drivers
Saturday 12th January 2013, 2:00PM GMT.
GUERNSEY’S Commerce and Employment minister got himself into hot water by appearing to endorse so-called Facebook taxis – where the social internet website is used to arrange lifts – by asking whether it should form part of the island’s forthcoming transport strategy.
He clarified this later by saying that they were intended to provoke debate on vehicle sharing but perhaps the focus should be on why Facebook taxis exist at all.
From a consumer perspective, having a regulated taxi service serves little purpose other than keeping civil servants employed.
Environment might argue that it ensures roadworthy, properly insured vehicles driven by individuals who know where they are going, but there are few times when passengers need to give thanks for that.
The service they use is judged on availability – or, more likely, unavailability – and price and regulation does nothing to help that. If anything, it makes it worse by restricting competition, capping the number of cabs and fixing fares.
Environment might also say that it merely establishes the maximum taxis can charge. But when a government-sponsored monopoly is told what it can bill, that looks suspiciously like a cartel to the consumer on the receiving end.
And if drivers do offer discounts then they are remarkably coy about advertising them.
This is not an attack on the trade, the majority of whom try to provide a timely, efficient and courteous service.
But technology, through Facebook-enabled phones, challenges traditional drivers where they are most vulnerable: instant availability and low or nil cost. Given the majority of these users are young and therefore, in their mind, invincible, insurance, regulation and vehicle quality is irrelevant.
That is why the C&E minister was right to suggest a debate on this. Where it will go wrong, however, is it will not provoke any creative thinking.
Instead, bureaucracy will instinctively seek to stop this from happening and the wider point that will be missed is this.
A significant market segment believes its needs are not being met and now has the ability to sidestep traditional providers to ensure that they are.
So should government act to meet that demand or attempt to crush it?
CampaignsVoice For Victims
Voice for Victims is a campaign aimed at promoting the rights of those affected by child sexual abuse.