Paper of the Week: The Jitneys, or The Uber of Early 20th Century
By Art Carden
It’s a fascinating story of rent-seeking special interests (electric streetcar and railway companies) seeking to maintain regulatory insulation from competition and maintain a “level playing field” as they were obligated to help pay, in some places, for things like street lighting and road paving.
If you have access to JSTOR, it’s well worth your time. The same arguments people are offering for “why we need to regulate Uber and Lyft” are the same arguments people used to shut down municipal jitney services a century ago. As they say, those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. Many cities are on the cusp of repeating the early 20th century’s mistakes.
Of course, there’s still a knotty problem here. How do we help ensure that firms aren’t subsidizing their competitors? If I were a streetcar company paying to pave and light the streets, I’d be a little upset that my competitors didn’t have to play by the same rules, just as a brick-and-mortar restaurant might be upset if they had to pay licensing fees and submit to regular health inspections while the food truck just down the block isn’t regulated in the same way.
So what can we do about it? I have a few ideas, but I’m interested in your answers first.