Thursday, May 24, 2018
Opinion

Rubio column: Encourage innovation by cutting outdated regulations

The U.S. economy became the envy of the world because of talented Americans, driven to be the best and willing to work harder than our competitors to provide the best products and services. Our free enterprise system and our people are at their best when there's a level playing field that doesn't pick winners and losers, and allows small businesses and startups to compete with larger, more established companies.

Unfortunately, antiquated regulations at all levels of government are stifling innovation and competition, depriving workers of opportunities and denying consumers more choices. They stand in the way of people who are trying to work their way into the middle class, mitigate the rising costs of living and ultimately achieve the American Dream.

Sometimes it can be difficult to fully grasp the real-world impact of antiquated regulations. The example of Uber, however, is an instructive one.

Uber is a startup that was founded by a group of friends in San Francisco to solve the problem of not being able to get a taxi when and where they wanted. An innovative technology company, Uber is basically a mobile device app that matches its supply of registered car drivers with the demand of passengers in cities where it's allowed to operate.

If you're looking for a car ride, Uber is an alternative to taxis or limousines. If you own or lease a car, it's a potential job opportunity as a driver. And through the app, greater transparency is encouraged as passengers can rate their drivers and vice versa.

Unfortunately, where some see Uber as an innovative, industry-changing transportation alternative, others see unwelcome competition and disruption of the status quo. With the exception of Jacksonville, regulations in most Florida cities don't allow for modern transportation options like Uber because of outdated regulations that limit consumer choice and protect existing monopolies.

In fact, everywhere Uber has attempted to expand, it's had to take on both the big established companies and the governments they have spent years influencing.

Such is the case in my home of Miami-Dade County. When Uber looked to enter the market, their competitors' immediate response was to organize a lobbying effort to resist change and block new competitors. And for now, they have succeeded in preventing Uber from expanding.

Regulations come in all sizes and shapes, but the ones that stand in the way of alternatives to traditional taxi services in Miami include forcing passengers to wait at least an hour for a nontaxi option, charging at least $70 for each ride regardless of the distance, and a requirement to book the vehicle's services for at least two hours.

While anyone familiar with Miami-Dade County's traffic and spread-out neighborhoods can tell you that some of these could end up being the results of a drive, it's hard to justify government mandating it. In doing so, it stands in the way of giving consumers the freedom to choose from more service options.

Of course, the problem of anticompetitive, outdated regulations is not unique to Uber and it's not unique to local governments. Entrenched interests are constantly protecting the status quo, creating new laws and regulations, and preventing the kind of disruptive changes that lead to new opportunities for entrepreneurs, workers and customers.

At the federal level, there are regulations that have not been touched in decades, though our economy has clearly experienced dramatic changes over the years. There are regulations and permitting applications that are overseen by multiple agencies and can take years to complete.

These kinds of regulations make no sense and negatively affect companies of all sizes, old and new. They hurt innovation. They limit access to new markets and customers. They stand in the way of better opportunities for job-seekers and customers. But they usually survive for a time because of powerful lobbies defending the status quo.

In the 21st century, the American people cannot afford the status quo. The Internet has unlocked economic possibilities most of us could not have dreamed 10, five or even one year ago. What sets America apart is that we are a nation of dreamers who are never content with standing still and are always looking for new ways to live and do better.

We can't allow outdated, anticompetitive regulations — at all levels of government — to stand in the way of progress and opportunities for our people. We should be doing everything we can to encourage innovation, not suffocate it. The 21st century can be another American century, but only if we make choices that embrace innovation and the freedom to compete on the strength of our ideas and our willingness to work hard for them.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., wrote this article exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.

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