The now-famous presidential soundbite “You didn’t build that“, has been argued, laughed at, celebrated, dissected, defended and ridiculed ever since the last syllable passed President Obama’s lips. We even covered it here in a guest post a few days ago. Basically, the argument in favor of Obama’s remark was that government was responsible for the infrastructure, schools, teachers, roads, city councils and everything else that “helped” and “allowed” you to succeed.
And, of course, I think that rationale is complete and utter pig poo.
However, if I temporarily hypothesize that it’s kosher, then does the opposite side of the coin also hold true? You know: does government share in the failure of a business, sort of a “YOU-didn’t-screw-that-up” government waiver? ‘Cause I really don’t think that’s their argument.
You’ll see where I’m going when you read the following article from the Chattanooga Times Free Press:
When longtime Chattanooga-area resident Christian “Thor” Thoreson and his partner Christina Holmes decided to launch Buzz Chattanooga Pedicabs in February 2011, the business seemed tailor-made for the downtown area.
Thoreson’s pedicabs, which are pedal-driven tricycles with a two-person passenger compartment attached behind the driver, fill an important need for downtown. By offering a cheap and convenient way for people to get around between hotels, tourist attractions, bars and restaurants, Buzz Chattanooga is a boon for tourist and a convenient addition for locals.
The pedicabs prevent drunk driving and free up precious parking spaces. They also cut down on auto emissions — a major plus for a city as hell-bent on glomming on every goofy green fad that comes down the pike as Chattanooga.
The pedicabs seem like a win for everyone. They provide a needed service for tourists, help get people in local businesses, get drunk drivers off the road, are environmentally friendly and provide Chattanoogans with well-paying jobs.
Even though I’m not exactly someone concerned with “green” this or “green” that, this idea seems to make sense. Plus, if people are willing to pay for it, why not? Leave it alone and see if it works. Heck, how much trouble and regulation could there be to a glorified Big Wheel with a rear seat?
Stupid question on my part.
Just to get Buzz Chattanooga off the ground, Thoreson had to abide by those 11 pages of pedicab-specific regulations. And that’s on top of the dozens and dozens of pages of rules pertaining to all for-hire vehicles in the city, including pedicabs.
The city ordinance limited the number of pedicab permits available, capping the number of pedicabs serving Chattanooga to just six. Each pedicab permit requires a $100 fee.
Those six pedicabs have to be outfitted with a horn, a rearview mirror, headlights, tail lights and turn signal.
Pedicab drivers are required to go through an intensive licensing process by the city, including passing a test given through the Chattanooga Police Department Regulatory Bureau Transportation Inspector’s office, as well as being subjected to a drug screening and a background search.
City regulations don’t allow pedicabs to cruise for passengers — they must remain parked and wait for customers. Strangely, even though cars often come much closer, pedicabs must stay at least 10 feet away from horse-drawn carriages. The vehicles also can’t be operated in public parks.
Huh? They can’t ride what is essentially a bike in a public park? I’d think that would be the IDEAL place to have them. However, I’ve looked and can’t find the reason for that rule anywhere.
Anyway, back to the government-sponsored torture:
But there is one regulation in the mountain of rules that pedicab owner and operators must follow that is more unfair and outlandish than any other.
Sec. 35-251(3) of the Chattanooga City Code states that a “pedicab driver shall not operate a pedal carriage or pedicab on any bridge or in any tunnel.”
That’s right, pedicabs can’t take passengers the 2,000 feet from downtown to North Shore. Pedicabs aren’t allowed on the Market Street bridge. They’re not even allowed on the Walnut Street pedestrian bridge. They can’t take visitors staying at the Delta Queen to the Chattanooga Aquarium.
Larry Zehnder, administrator of the Chattanooga Parks and Recreation Department, advised the city council that having a “speedy motor vehicle [on the pedestrian bridge] could be a hazard.”
In case you got lost there, the “speedy motor vehicle” to which Zehnder is referring is the pedicab.
After dealing with the frustrating regulations placed on his business, the unwillingness of city leaders to allow him to serve customers on both sides of the river and difficulties in selling ads on the pedicabs, Thoreson decided yesterday to throw in the towel and close Buzz Chattanooga.
When asked what he’d tell another entrepreneur considering starting a business in Chattanooga, Thoreson replied, “Stay the hell away.”
Thoreson’s story is the hidden side of regulations that the city council and other bureaucrats rarely consider in their absurd exercises in trying to keep people safe and micromanage businesses. Too often, regulations stifle entrepreneurs’ ability to innovate, and prevent them from improving their businesses, serving more customers and, ultimately, making Chattanooga a better place.
I’m sure that the city council won’t lose one second of sleep about Buzz Chattanooga Pedicabs tonight. Yet it is the city’s regulations, and the actions of other city governments and our national government, which is the thousand-pound weight drowning such start-ups. And I don’t see the “You didn’t build that” crowd pounding their chests on TV, offering mea culpas for helping to destroy this man’s dream. No, the failure was the individual’s fault.
When someone defends Obama’s ludicrous “You didn’t build that” pap, you may wish to remind them of the old proverb: “Success has many fathers, while Failure is an orphan”.
That’d be a much more truthful description of government, IMHO….