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    The Corliss Group Latest Tech Review: When Technology Helps Consumers Challenge the Status Quo

    Adapting to change is hard, especially when your family’s livelihood is on the line. That’s why, when companies face competition, their tendency is to reach out to the government to ask for protection and demand that competition be squashed using the regulatory and coercive power of the state.

    The best example is the fight between taxicabs and companies such as Uber and Lyft, two innovative up-and-coming alternatives to cabs. It’s been going on for months, but it culminated a few weeks ago in Virginia when the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles sent cease-and-desist letters to Uber Technologies and Lyft ordering them to stop operating.

    Over at the Washington Post last week, Emily Bagger had a piece explaining what is really at stake for cab companies: cab medallions. As the piece explains “a medallion in Chicago fetched around $350,000. . . . In New York, taxi medallions have topped $1 million. In Boston, $700,000. In Philadelphia, $400,000. In Miami, $300,000.”

    One way to think about medallions is that they are the reward for companies subjecting themselves to the insane and punishing licensing laws imposed by the government.

    CHICAGO — A taxicab is a car remade by government, modified dozens of ways by edicts within subsections of articles of the city’s taxi code.

    “Everywhere on this car has been regulated,” John Henry Assabill says. “Look at it!”

    He throws up his arms in the direction of his gold-colored 2012 Ford Transit Connect. The car’s medallion number — 813 — is painted in black plain gothic figures (must be black plain gothic figures) on the driver’s-side hood, on both passenger doors and, for good measure, on the rear. Inside, there is a camera mounted over the rear-view mirror, a dispatch radio bolted to the console, a credit-card reader snapped to the passenger headrest.

    From the back of Assabill’s seat hangs a sign — lamination required — spelling out the city’s fare structure: $3.25 for the base rate, $2 for the airport departure/arrival tax, $50 vomit cleanup fee. Everywhere, there are mandatory stickers. “That one costs a dollar,” Assabill says of a window decal reminding passengers to LOOK! before opening the door into the possible path of cyclists and pedestrians. “The fine for not having it is $100.”

    Then there are the holes. Several have been drilled into the roof to mount the top light that distinguishes cabs from other cars at a distance. Another has been punched right into the hood, bolting down the palm-size metal plate — the “medallion” itself — that gives Assabill the right to operate this cab, one of 6,904 in Chicago.

    The losers of this ban are low-income Americans looking to make a living. These ride-sharing companies allow anyone who has a car to become a businessman: Drivers can provide travel services directly to customers using apps.

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