One Step Toward 'Reinventing' Michigan

Governor, Legislature can embrace innovation

Over the past four years, there’s been a lot of talk about “reinventing” Michigan. Gov. Rick Snyder and this Legislature have made significant strides toward that goal by improving the state’s tax structure, modernizing education policies and beginning to revamp the state’s regulatory regime. On that last item there is more to be done. House Bill 5951 would embrace innovative ride-sharing technologies used by companies such as Uber and Lyft.

HB 5951, introduced by Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Saginaw Twp., would create a state-based regulatory framework for these so-called transportation network companies. The version of the bill passed out of a House committee last week would create reasonable requirements that strive to uphold the safety of drivers and riders. For instance, all drivers would need to be at least 21, undergo a thorough background check and be covered by a $1 million insurance policy. Additionally, all vehicles would need to get annual inspections by a Michigan-licensed auto mechanic.

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Although statewide regulations can sometimes thwart disruptive innovations such as these, the proposed rules appear to be an improvement over the ones developed at the local level. For instance, Ann Arbor and Detroit do not appear to have figured out how to handle Uber and Lyft yet, with Ann Arbor trying to shut them down this past summer and Detroit threatening to do likewise. Rep. Kelly’s bill would prevent local governments from further overregulating ride-sharing companies, creating an opportunity for all Michiganders to benefit from these car services.

Establishing a welcoming environment for ride-sharing companies would position Michigan uniquely as a national leader in embracing technological innovations and investments. Unfortunately, the state recently took a step backward when it created new barriers for innovative automobile companies to do business here. Some car manufacturers, such as Tesla, would like to sell directly to consumers, but a recently passed state law jeopardizes its ability to do so. It’s obvious how this benefits car dealerships but unclear how it helps consumers.

If this state really is going to be “reinvented” and become “Michigan 3.0,” it will need to embrace disruptive change and the technological innovations that drive it. The state swung and missed on Tesla, surrendering to entrenched special interests and raising the cost of Michiganders enjoying the benefits of electric cars. But Gov. Snyder and the Legislature have another at bat. Here’s hoping for a different outcome this time around.

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