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Monday, March 2, 2015  |   Madison, WI: 19.0° F  
CITIZEN DAVE: Thoughts and ideas about city building from Madison's former mayor
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Citizen Dave: With services like Uber and Lyft, lightness will trump heft every time
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The local dust-up over the ride-sharing companies Lyft and Uber is really just part of a much bigger question.

What's happening pretty much everywhere is that online-oriented companies are finding ways to undercut traditional, big businesses that are loaded down with infrastructure and hampered by regulations.

Lightness, speed and adaptability are outmaneuvering big capital investments, name recognition and large customer bases.

There are lots of examples. Newspapers have been bloodied by the Internet because the cost of presses, paper, ink and reporters could be undercut by online services. Bookstores were undercut by companies like Amazon, which could sell books for less without the overhead of the bookstore itself. And right now the big television networks have fought Aereo all the way up to the Supreme Court because they see the online entertainment provider as stealing their content and selling it at a much reduced cost to the consumer. Even bricks and mortar universities face a challenge by online courses.

For the most part, consumers end up benefiting from this sort of thing, though it's not cut and dried. Yes, I have a lot more sources of information, but weakened traditional newspapers with fewer seasoned reporters aren't a good thing for the quality of the information I get. Lyft and Uber could reduce the cost of a taxi ride, but there's a real concern about what happens if the traditional cab companies go away and the virtual providers don't want to serve every neighborhood.

So, credit people like Madison Ald. Scott Resnick, who is working with the city attorney's office, to draft some kind of compromise regulations that allow Lyft and Uber to serve Madison while meeting some minimum standards for service. But that's a tall order, and we'll see how well he can accomplish it.

The main point is that this is all part of a very big wave that has been coming at us for some time. It's not going away, and simply insisting the old ways are the only way to go will get people, companies and communities washed over. The races, whatever they are, will always go to the swift.

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