Uber expansion a win-win, experts say

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CHICAGO – Uber is expanding in Chicago, which is good news for fans of ridesharing and taxi-alternative companies, experts say.

Gov. Quinn and executives from the prominent ridesharing company Uber announced today that the latter will move forward with expanding its Chicago regional headquarters, a plan that is set to create 420 new jobs by the end of 2016.

Anthony Sanders is an attorney at the Institute for Justice, a firm that has been actively involved in cases dealing with ridesharing companies across the country. He says his firm defends these companies because they create a win-win situation for drivers and consumers.

“We believe the innovative ridesharing format holds tremendous potential,” Sanders said. “It’s a great way for full-time and part-time drivers to make good money, and provides consumers a choice in how they get from place to place.”

Sanders also said companies like Uber are valuable because they end the established monopoly of public taxi companies.

“That is where the pushback comes from,” he said. “The taxi companies believe they have a right to be protected from competition, and they use their power to influence politicians. So far in Chicago, the city has recognized the right of these ridesharing companies to exist, but there have been several close calls.”

Monday’s announcement came on the heels of last month’s decision by Quinn to veto legislation that would have catered to the taxicab lobby by heavily regulating private ridesharing companies.

“Through innovation and job creation, Uber is helping drive Illinois’ economy forward,” Quinn said in a statement. “Uber’s new expanded headquarters will allow the company to continue its rapid growth and serve its riders and drivers throughout Illinois. While we have more work to do, Illinois is making a comeback and cutting-edge companies like Uber are a key part of it.”

Baruch Feigenbaum is the assistant director of transportation policy at the Reason Foundation, and says ridesharing companies like Uber are generally a benefit to the communities they operate in.

“These companies fill a market hole for people who dislike using traditional taxi services or find the advanced technology Uber uses to be more convenient,” Feigenbaum said. “The app on your phone and new approach – pre-paying with credit cards, longer distance rides, etc. – are all things that makes these companies appealing to every day folks.”

Feigenbaum said some of the pushback from the taxi industry is warranted, since the two groups are regulated at differing levels.

“The answer here isn’t to heavily regulate Uber or other companies, but deregulate taxis,” he said. “There should be basic safety requirements of course, but not a long list of mundane rules that create unfair advantages and disadvantages in the marketplace.”

Uber touted its own advantages on Monday.

“Like many tech companies, Uber started with a few people and a good idea,” Andrew MacDonald, regional general manager for Uber Central said in a statement. “The Uber idea spurred an entirely new industry, and the innovative nature of our business requires policymakers take the time to educate themselves on how it works and the appropriate way of regulating it. When policymakers do their homework, they soon learn that we offer access to a safer ride for everyone and bring a number of benefits to cities including higher incomes for drivers, service to neighborhoods that taxi companies ignore and fewer drunk driving incidents.”

The Uber office in Chicago operates at the Central Region headquarters – a region that includes the Midwest, Texas and Canada – and employees 80 workers. Uber plans to expand its offices into a larger building and add full-time staff and drivers.

Besides Chicago, Uber is in 10 other Illinois cities.