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Fayetteville is now the uber capital of ride-sharing crackdowns in Arkansas.

No doubt more than a few city residents asked "Don't police have anything better to do?" the other day with news that officers had engaged in an undercover sting operation to apprehend a man for offering to give someone a car ride. "Hey, fella, can I interest you in a ride?" isn't a euphemism for a kind of activity more familiar to local sting operations. It's the question at the center of the city's crackdown on a new, worldwide online business that threatens to harm local taxi services.

What’s The Point?

The public will have to ultimately answer whether it wants its local government to quash ride-sharing services like Uber or continue protections created to regulate taxi services.

That business is called Uber. Based in San Francisco, the company has paired the technology of smartphones and the Internet with people's demand for getting around. Local drivers sign up with the company. Once the company has drivers in a town, users of the Uber app can use it to request a ride. The company then contacts the nearest available driver.

This new method of finding a driver for hire is no doubt innovative, but in towns large and small around the world, its getting a less-than-gracious welcome from established, local taxi services and local governments that regulate the delivery of taxi services to the public.

Fayetteville City Attorney Kit Williams recently issued a warning upon Uber's introduction into the area: Don't even try to operate in Fayetteville without complying with the city's taxi regulations. He unleashed the city's Police Department. On Saturday, officers arranged for a ride through the Uber mobile app, then issued a citation to 31-year-old Aaron Welch of Rogers when he arrived. He's accused of operating without a certificate of public convenience and necessity, and operating without a taxi inspection decal. He faces $185 in fines.

A second driver was ticketed early Sunday morning in downtown Fayetteville.

Fayetteville may be the most visibly aggressive town in Arkansas in trying to shut down this unique approach to residents and visitors getting around, but protectionist policies pit Uber and similar ride-sharing-for-pay services against local governments across the globe. Whether those policies protect the public or just the local taxi companies is one of those eye-of-the-beholder questions.

"This is an industry that doesn't want to see competition," said Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Coty, Uber's regional general manager for northern Europe, in the New York Times International Edition. A judge in Germany recently overturned a ban on Uber's operation there. "Incumbents will try to find any legal way to stop companies like Uber from competing."

This is no simple matter. Consumers appreciate the innovative approach that allows them to get a ride with a push of a button on a smartphone. But the laws regulating taxi cabs offer important protections for those consumers. The public will have to answer whether they're OK -- and whether their government leaders should be OK -- with convenient ride-sharing services and drivers that aren't as "checked out" as local taxis, or if still want their municipal government to quash less-regulated services in favor of traditional taxi services.

We suspect we know which one would win a vote among the tech-savvy crowd.

Commentary on 09/18/2014

Print Headline: Is Crackdown On Ride-Sharer Really Needed?

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