As the backbone of a strong free-market economy, competition helps drives economic growth: incentivizing innovation, creating jobs and ensuring that quality of goods and services is continuously improving. It’s innovation and competition that’s led to the creation of Transportation Network Companies, which are lowering costs for consumers, moving more people with fewer cars on the road and expanding access to areas that aren’t friendly to public transportation. TNCs are growing rapidly in use and popularity and require a steady and growing supply of drivers to keep pace with area demand.
Sadly however, in Tampa, Fla., Hillsborough County’s Public Transportation Commission on Wednesday decided to stifle competition and limit opportunities for many, after voting 5-2 in favor of mandatory fingerprint-based background checks for TNC drivers. If this sounds familiar, it’s because a few months ago a nearly identical regulation was passed in Austin, Texas. As a result, Uber and Lyft decided to no longer provide their services in the Greater Austin Area, leaving hundreds of thousands without access to these alternative platforms. The real losers in such cases are both the drivers who relied on TNCs to help make ends meet, and the consumers who now have to revert back to being at the mercy of unreliable taxi cab companies. Rather than listening to an overwhelming majority of constituents who voiced their support for ridesharing services, the Hillsborough County PTC has decided to dismiss public opinion and help a dying taxi industry – further demonstrating the corrupt behavior that defines cronyism.
What’s also troubling are the unintended consequences brought on by fingerprint background checks. The fact that fingerprint background checks may catch arrests without a conviction should quickly raise alarm bells to any public official. New fingerprint-based background checks are unnecessary and duplicative of the already existing background checks, which include rigorous in-person screenings and vehicle inspections. The new regulations only raise costs, narrow the pool of prospective drivers and slow the growth of an essential economic sector in Tampa – without measurably enhancing public safety.
However, the true crime of fingerprinting rests in how it disproportionately impacts minority communities. African Americans and other minorities, including Hispanics, are disproportionately arrested. Approximately one-third of these arrests, even for the most serious felonies, never result in a conviction. An individual should not fail a background check, and possibly lose a work opportunity, because he or she was arrested but never convicted of a crime. Hispanic and African American entrepreneurs already face major challenges in launching and expanding a business, and the PTC’s new rules create yet another unfair and unnecessary obstacle for minority entrepreneurs to pursue their American dream.
Now is not the time to minimize economic opportunities. Plenty of cities have struggled to bounce back from the 2008 housing market crash, but Tampa’s economy is at its strongest since the recession.
There’s no excuse for an archaic regulatory commission to limit any further economic growth of a region by over-regulating an industry that’s being rightfully challenged by innovation. It’s time that local regulators quit picking winners and losers and embrace a 21st century economy where ridesharing services are offering consumers innovative alternatives to a traditional, and often unchallenged, service.
It’s simple: Either adapt to a 21st century economy where innovation is inevitable, or fall behind and suppress local economic growth.
Kevin Hernandez is director of government affairs & policy at the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
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