Monday, August 27, 2007

Minneapolis taxi case goes to trial 

Oral arguments are expected this week in the lawsuit of the existing taxi owner/operators in Minneapolis against the city's desire to remove limits on the number of cab licenses in the city. The demand for cabs is currently expressed by a price of $25,000 per license that Luis Paucar faced when he wanted to operate fifteen licenses in the city. George Will explained in May:

As a byproduct of government intervention, a secondary market arose in which government-conferred benefits were traded by the cartel. In 2006, Minneapolis had only one cab for every 1,000 residents (compared to three times as many in St. Louis and Boston), which was especially punishing to the poor who lack cars.

That fact -- and Paucar's determination and, eventually, litigiousness; he is a real American -- helped persuade the City Council members, liberals all (12 members of the Democratic Farmer-Labor Party, one member of the Green Party), to vote to allow 45 new cabs per year until 2010, at which point the cap will disappear. In response, the cartel is asking a federal court to say the cartel's constitutional rights have been violated. It says the cap -- a barrier to entry into the taxi business -- constituted an entitlement to profits that now are being "taken" by government action.

The Institute for Justice has joined with Paucar and blind Minneapolis resident Blanca Prescott (who pays more for cab services as a result of the cartel) as a third party of interest in the lawsuit to argue for the city's right to remove its own regulation and free the market. It would be a perversion of the Fifth Amendment to use the compensation clause as an argument for making government pay to deregulate.

Such regulations have long been known to kill jobs in a community, as John Fund notes in the WSJ today. The hair braiders story (also picked up by IJ in 2005) is just one example of this. But it's also important to see the other side of the story: the consumers who are denied services because they cannot contract freely with people like Luis Paucar who want to give it. IJ explains how she comes to this lawsuit:

On June 7, 2005, hours before her daughter�s graduation from Head Start, she telephoned Luis Paucar�s company, A New Star, and scheduled a multi-stop trip, involving travel to the local K-Mart and then on to her daughter�s ceremony. A New Star�s driver waited in the parking lot for his blind passenger.

But while the driver was assisting Blanca back into his car for the second leg of the trip, he was cited for operating a taxi in Minneapolis without a government-approved license. The Minneapolis police officer ordered Blanca out of the car, had the vehicle towed and left her in the parking lot to fend for herself. It was 5:30 p.m. and her daughter�s graduation was at 6:30 p.m. No other taxis were in the vicinity, and Blanca eventually arrived late to her daughter�s graduation.
We anticipate having Lee McGrath or Scott Bullock from IJ on The Final Word next weekend to tell us how oral arguments went and how the case might proceed. While we normally would rail against liberals on the show, let's stand in fulsome praise of the Minneapolis City Council's action to remove this barrier to public transportation among the poor of that city.

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