A comment was made, by yours truly, in response to a recent article about the attempted robbery of a taxi driver in which I expressed regret that Uber had failed to be an instrument of change. It was a single, unsupported statement and naturally drew questions; how, I was asked, had Uber failed? It’s not something I can answer in brief or glibly.
Allow me to start by making it perfectly clear that while I do not endorse the behavior of Uber, this isn’t about slamming Uber drivers. If one can ‘support the troops’ while also criticizing the behavior of the government directing those troops, I can support Uber drivers without supporting their corporate overlords or their frankly reprehensible behavior. Uber drivers have a lot in common with cab drivers yet, in the same way the very rich enjoy watching everyone else bicker about a $15 minimum wage, busy themselves with battling the Taxi industry on the roads and in court. At the very top, Uber ain’t care.
Uber was born of opportunity and that opportunity was afforded Uber by a taxi industry which hadn’t changed fundamentally in two or three decades. Cab companies, I can tell you this as I was on the inside in the early 2000's, saw the writing on the wall and opted to put up wallpaper. Broken apps, shitty email service - these were their answer to the growing social age. Poor customer service bred of a “who else are you gonna use” attitude combined with high prices to ride in crappy cars and the people were getting fed up. In reply, Uber was created and at first the cab-stablishment ignored them, added more wall paper and a hanging painting. Then, suddenly, Uber wasn’t messing around, suddenly the cab companies realized they’d been out maneuvered.
Faced with a changing paradigm, the companies struggled to react. How did they react, you ask? With smartphone app’s and better customer service? NO! Their method for blocking Uber from competing wasn’t to grow and adapt, it was to employ the tool of bureaucracy as their weapon. On the grounds of established requirements for operating a taxi (permits, insurance, criminal record checks, etc) many cab companies sought to prevent Uber from even getting a foot in the door. This would be utterly disgraceful if they weren’t battling an organization prepared to employ similar tactics. And so, in their battles in markets across North America, Uber and the Taxi Industry revealed themselves as interested not in improving the experience but in exploiting an already troubled transportation format for every single penny (USD or CDN) possible.
Thus; Uber failed to meaningfully change the business for the better.
But wait, you say, what about my personal feelings as an Uber rider or operator? Isn’t Uber... better?
No. It’s not. In some ways, Taxi Cabs are a thousand times better and it’s largely regional.
Taxis, for example, equip interior cameras and microphones for your protection as well as the drivers. They are required to have higher level licences often and matching insurance. Taxis are regulated, even if poorly, and that regulation pays dividends for the customer and the operator.
While Uber is slowly adapting some of these measures in some of the cities in which they operate, the change is of such a gradual pace as to be transparent - Uber is adapting these measures only as it is forced to. Meanwhile, the ever unchanging taxi industry continues to battle Uber on legal grounds and not fiscal.
Uber could have been the instrument of change, the tool by which both industries change for the better whether that means the dissolving of one or the success of another. But it’s not.
The taxi industry sucks, don’t get me wrong, on all levels. Employed to answer phones, dispatch or drive, an owner or a lease operator, as a customer or just sharing the roads with cabs - it sucks but, if anything, Uber proves it doesn’t need to suck... in theory if not in practice.
And the moment Uber is allowed to operate in my city, I’ll be behind the wheel of my pony giving rides and getting tickets because fuck it, who cares about anything or anyone else as long as I’m getting good, right?
Think I’ll go rob me a cabbie.