It hasn’t attracted the headlines this year of Donald Trump or the Iran nuclear deal, but the ride-booking service Uber has proven as controversial as either of those this year and then some, as Hawaii and other states have sought to regulate this relatively new way of getting from here to there.

The Hawaii Legislature declined to act on a measure earlier this year that would have forced Uber drivers to buy more insurance, but the bill is expected to be resurrected in 2016. Nineteen states, in fact, have considered new regulations for Uber and other transportation network companies this year, as have many larger municipalities, including New York City, where Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday surprisingly abandoned a proposal to limit Uber’s expansion in that city.

Uber hardly shows up for such consideration unarmed: Its chief political adviser is board member David Plouffe, chief strategist on President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign — a sign of the company’s growing marketplace heft.

The company was only founded in 2009, and it took another two years for its services to get off the ground in its home city of San Francisco. But with nearly $45 million in funding, it began a campaign that year of launching in a major new U.S. city each month, and by the end of the year, it was online in Paris, as well.

Uber_Protest_Portland

Portland, Oregon, cab drivers stage a protest against Uber earlier this year.

Aaron Pareck

Its meteoric global expansion since then — driven in part by millennials’ collective movement away from the car culture — has been accompanied by a backlash in many countries. Traditional taxi companies have led the charge, followed closely by governments uncertain of how to manage either Uber or the market disruption caused by its breakout success. The City of Berlin, Germany, banned the company outright last year, as did Nevada, though the latter is creating new regulations that are expected to allow Uber and other TNCs back in the marketplace later this year.

Uber and its main competitor, Lyft, only began offering service in Honolulu a little more than a year ago, and like many other jurisdictions, Hawaii lacks any regulation of such businesses. Uber and Lyft drivers use their own cars to ferry riders who hail drivers by using the companies’ online apps. Rides are often cheaper than those provided by traditional cabs, but the cab companies blame that to a great extent on government regulations of their industry typically put in place generations ago and accepted as the normal state of doing business.

As Civil Beat columnist Denby Fawcett recently reported, some regulation in this industry is both appropriate and necessary. Requiring drivers to have clear driving and criminal records for the past two years, for instance, doesn’t seem too onerous a burden and offers important protection for consumers. But requiring cabs to wait for riders in taxi stands is certainly among the dated regulations that ought to be repealed.

Local cab companies say they’re not interested in driving Uber and other similar services away, but simply making them operate under the same regulations — a sentiment echoed by Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell in calling for a “level playing field.”

Uber’s business model has already introduced interesting innovations in a Honolulu transportation marketplace crying for new ideas. Some of those ideas have already been adapted by local cab companies for their own use, helping them to catch up to best practices already common on the mainland.

But the better idea is rethinking regulation altogether. As both TNC and cab interests have made clear, laws governing Hawaii’s taxi industry go back more than 50 years — long before such innovations as smart-phone apps to summon a car were even a glimmer in any entrepreneur’s eye.

Rather than spreading an outdated layer of governance like a wet blanket over a thriving new innovation, Hawaii lawmakers ought to consider whether loosening restrictions on cab companies is the better alternative.

Uber’s business model has already introduced interesting innovations in a Honolulu transportation marketplace crying for new ideas. Some of those ideas have already been adapted by local cab companies for their own use, helping them to catch up to best practices already common on the mainland.

Outdated regulation — or placing the TNCs under the regulation of the Public Utilities Commission, as the Uber bill that failed in the recent legislative session would have done — won’t help the TNCs or the cab companies. But it would certainly aggravate consumers, who are already voting for the ride-booking companies with their wallets.

Legislators will have the rest of the summer and fall to assess how these issues are playing out in states and municipalities around the country and to consider only the most forward-thinking changes for Hawaii. Doing so will be good for cab companies and ride-sharing services, but especially the growing number of consumers they serve.

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