Most governments take their nanny role seriously, but some are more zealous than others. Among the most zealous is the provincial government of Quebec. In its eagerness to ‘protect’ citizens from presumably incompetent Uber drivers (who must have a valid driver’s license and are screened by Uber), it initially required 20 hours of training as a condition for allowing Uber to operate in Quebec. That was a year ago. See the story here.
Now the Quebec government, the all-knowing nanny, has determined that 20 hours is not enough. If Uber wants to continue operating in the province, its drivers must undergo 35 hours of training. No, the drivers have not been involved in any more accidents than other drivers, and the Quebec customers have been pleased to have the ride-sharing service as an alternative to taxis. The government’s justification for the new requirement is to make the training for Uber drivers equal to taxi driver training.
Licensed taxi drivers in Montreal, for example, must go through 60 hours of basic training. As William Watson observes in a Financial Post op-ed, lessons on customer service, professionalism, and observing traffic rules seem to have been lost on most of Montreal cabbies. 60 hours is a lot of training—much more than the 39 hours it takes Professor Watson to teach a course on the entire history of economic thought; yet, it has not improved driving safety or customer service of taxi drivers.
The Quebec government’s argument for more regulation to protect citizens is not valid. Uber’s screening of its drivers and its customer review system protect riders’ safety already much better than any government regulation can. Those measures also ensure a more pleasant customer experience, as all Uber riders know.
The government’s real reason for the ratcheted regulation is likely equity, demanded by the taxi lobby that does not like competition. But as this case shows, government-forced equity has only bad consequences.
Uber will be ceasing operations in Quebec in a matter of days unless the government rescinds its more stringent driver training requirement, which Uber calls unfair to its mostly part-time drivers. This would mean reduced employment opportunities for Uber drivers and no convenient alternative to the expensive taxi service (and surly in Montreal, according to Watson) for residents and visitors in Quebec. Uber pulling out would also reinforce the province’s reputation as a regulation-happy, anti-business jurisdiction, unattractive to investors and businesses—leading to diminishing economic prospects for its residents. Even the taxi drivers will suffer from a poorer economy and less demand for their business.
From the above, you may have already concluded that the nanny state should not dictate the amount of training for Uber drivers (or for taxi drivers). But let’s ask what the fundamental reasons for that conclusion are, so that we can apply the lessons from this particular case more broadly and be able to argue persuasively against similar government intrusions in our lives.
What is the proper role of government? Should government be an all-knowing, benevolent nanny who tells us how we must live, for our own good? Of course not. Such a notion of government is a myth. As individual citizens, we have different values and preferences. No politician or bureaucrat can know what is best for different individuals; the individuals themselves must be free to determine that and choose accordingly.
Free choice, without government interference, does not of course guarantee that people choose what is best for them. They might make mistakes, but they would be responsible for them, could learn from them, and choose more wisely next time.
Government’s proper role is not to dictate people’s choices, such as who to hire, how to train them, or who to accept a ride from, but to make such choices possible. This means not initiating force (such as regulation for driver training) but protecting people against the initiation of physical force by others. Uber should be free to hire whomever it wants and to train (or not train) them the way it wants. Customers should be free to choose whom to accept rides from.
Government’s only role should be to intervene (through the police, the armed forces, and the courts) to protect citizens against those who initiate or threaten to initiate physical force on others, such as through dangerous driving or through fraud.
This is the principle to keep in mind so we can argue and fight back when the nanny state tries to curtail our freedom to choose—and ability live and flourish.