Ride-sharing has been in the headlines even more than usual this month because of the senseless violence allegedly carried out by an Uber driver in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and the alleged attack on an Uber driver by a mob of passengers in Arlington, Virginia. The question of whether ride-sharing is adequately regulated demands an answer.
It's worth noting that over the last few years, ride-sharing seems to have had a safer track record than the taxi industry. Several taxi drivers have been arrested for a series of sexual assaults in New York City, Honolulu, Nashville and Santa Cruz. In January, New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton suggested that women use the "buddy system" for safety due to a rise in taxicab rapes – 14 in 2015 alone. Despite taxi driver licensing, the problem of anonymity remains. It's hard for the passenger to recall identifying information about their taxi driver, whereas in ride-sharing that information is automatically recorded. The lack of safety cuts both ways, too – assaults and robbery against taxi drivers are common, and an average of 38 taxi drivers are murdered each year.
It's no surprise that public safety is the core rationale for transportation regulation. During a street hail the driver and potential passenger are mostly anonymous, and neither can tell if the other is dangerous. The driver has more information, though, about the quality of his vehicle and the safety of his driving – while the passenger discovers the truth only after it's too late to back out of the deal. Historical as well as modern evidence shows that this is indeed a critical public safety issue.