Customers Don’t Need Protection from Low Prices

Some things seem obvious: Puppies are cute. Freedom is good. Paying less for something is better than paying more.

Unless you live in the Tampa area and work for the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission (PTC). The PTC was created, ironically, to protect Tampa’s transportation customers. Apparently, that means protecting those customers from low prices.

This is not one of those stories about unintended consequences or safety regulations that, in the long run, result in higher prices and therefore unsafe practices. The PTC left the agencies that impose those sorts of economics-challenged agencies in its dust. Instead, the PTC actually passed a rule requiring Tampa’s sedan and limo drivers to overcharge their customers. The rule mandates that all drivers must charge at least $50 per ride – no matter how short the ride, and even when the driver is willing to charge much less.

Let me repeat: The PTC is expressly protecting customers from low prices.  What’s next for the PTC?  Protecting us from pillows that are too soft or food that’s too tasty? (Don’t give Michael Bloomberg any ideas.) There are many good things in this world that undoubtedly must be stopped, so the PTC is going to be quite busy.

Unless someone stops the PTC first.

That’s why our friends at the Institute for Justice filed a lawsuit last week on behalf of a limousine operator and his would-be thrifty clients. Their demands are simple: (1) The consumers want to pay less for their rides; (2) The entrepreneur wants to charge less for the services he provides. Now they just need the PTC to get out of the way.

Thankfully, the Florida Constitution protects the right to economic liberty, and the Florida Supreme Court has shown a willingness to strike down laws that interfere with the right of consumers to bargain for lower prices.

This is as it should be. Consumers and entrepreneurs – not the government – should decide how much a ride from a car service should cost: 

Government-imposed minimum-fare rules don’t help consumers. All they do is increase costs, stifle innovation and protect industry insiders from competition – hardly a wise or constitutional use of government power. At least, that seems obvious to me.