Consider this hypothetical: Brand A costs $15 while Brand B costs $10.

Does the consumer choose Brand A because it is a known and trusted brand, or does the consumer elect to save five bucks?

Answer: It’s up to the consumer.

Reduced to its most basic elements, that is the choice that Oahu residents and visitors have when deciding whether to order a taxi cab or call a ride-hailing service like Uber and Lyft.

That is also the issue before the Honolulu City Council, which earlier this month advanced two measures designed to regulate cab companies similar to ride-hailing companies. The initial unanimous votes on the bills, which face several more votes, suggest that most council members get what most consumers have already got: that there are cheaper alternatives to calling a cab.

Uber Application in Hawaii

The Uber app relies upon GPS technology to calculate fares. Bills before the City Council would require taxi companies to be more like rider-sharing companies.

Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Mayor Kirk Caldwell gets it, too. His administration is pushing one of the measures, Bill 44. It would give taxi companies more flexibility with fares and allow them to charge a flat rate or a pay-by-the-mile fare.

In his June 21 letter to the council, Caldwell said Bill 44 would simplify the laws that govern taxis and ride-hailers. Taxicab companies, the mayor argues, would have the option “to further their businesses using advancing technologies” such as GPS locators and hailing applications “to provide up-front prices to prospective passengers,” similar to the business model used by Uber and Lyft.

Caldwell insists that public safety will not be sacrificed (some critics of ride-hailing have argued the opposite, pointing to isolated examples of driver abuse) and that consumers will be told upfront how much their ride will cost. Taxicab companies, meanwhile, could still stick with traditional taximeters.

“I believe that such an approach levels the field, protects the consumer and provides the consumer with choices,” the mayor stated.

We agree. We also like Bill 43, which comes from council member Trevor Ozawa.

Similar to Bill 44, this legislation would allow all private transportation companies to set in advance the total fare for a single ride, as long as prices are fully disclosed. That would eliminate the shock that taxi passengers currently experience as the meter keeps running red miles away from a destination.

Ozawa’s bill would also get rid of taxi certification numbers but would keep intact the requirement that taxi operators issue receipts when asked.

The opposition from Honolulu taxi business includes the argument that forcing a cab company to change its business model will put it at a disadvantage. And yet, that is the same argument that rider-hailing outfits used about previous proposed legislation forcing them to operate more like cabs.

Another argument against Bills 43 and 44 is that senior citizens and the disabled can’t use ride-hailing services because many do not have smart phones, let alone the apps to request a ride. Maybe some also do not have credit cards.

Sorry, Charley’s Taxi, but those arguments aren’t good ones.

For example, to make things easier for those particular communities, Uber provides a tailored option called uberAssist, which “offers additional assistance to members of the senior and physically disabled community.”

Uber and its ilk are having their own growing pains, including in Uber’s case charges of gender discrimination and inequity, deadly autonomous vehicles, a bad-boy corporate culture and growing competition. Just this week a driver for Uber and Lyft was fired after he was caught live-streaming passengers without their consent on the game-streaming site Twitch.

Just like the traditional newspaper business, or the movie business, or just about any business dating to before and after the era of the horse and buggy, times change. Businesses either adapt or perish.

The ultimate winner in the battle of taxis versus Uber should be the people — especially those of us who can’t afford a ride to — or parking at — Daniel K. Inouye International Airport.

Thoughts on this or any other story? Write a Letter to the Editor. Send to news@civilbeat.org and put Letter in the subject line. 200 words max. You need to use your name and city and include a contact phone for verification purposes. And you can still comment on stories on our Facebook page.

Before you go . . .

During a crisis like this, it’s more important than ever to dig beyond the news, to figure out what government policies mean for ordinary citizens and how those policies were put together.

For the first time, Civil Beat has become a seven-days-per-week news operation, publishing new stories and a new edition each Saturday and Sunday as well as weekdays.

This is perhaps the biggest, most consequential story our reporters will ever cover. And at no other time in Civil Beat’s history have we relied on your support more. Please consider supporting Civil Beat by making a tax-deductible gift.

About the Author