No business has been getting the cities of Canada and the US as riled up as the taxi service, Uber. With the numerous articles and reports of cities banning Uber, police cracking down on drivers and the rapid spread of the infamous taxi service, how did such a popular service become so hated?
For those who are too financially crippled to use any public transit that isn’t the local bus or subway (me), or tend to take their mother’s warnings to heart about strangers driving them home (me), then Uber may seem like nothing special and you know nothing of it.
This is what Uber is all about: challenging the taxi industry by providing excellent customer service, being punctual, allowing customers to prepay their fares lest any dastardly taxi bandits run off with extra “service” fees after the ride, and in reportedly cleaner and better maintained cars.
But there’s two big things between Uber and the public: the law and money.
Take two minutes, body shift into Robert De Niro or something, and pretend to be a taxi driver. With a bad New Yorker accent, if that’s what makes it worth it. You’ve gotten your taxi license after shelling out tons of money to the city and you’re making a few bucks picking up people across town. Maybe ten minutes late here and there for a lunch break or to restock fuel. You’re making a decent living transporting tourists, gangsters, celebrities and civilians alike.
But it has its gripes — sometimes customers short you, random things dent your car, the insurance is a killer, the inspection and licences are expensive, plus you need to outright replace your car around every 4 years.
Now, imagine after several years of this, you’ve got a decent living. You’re on the way to pick up a customer, but then you’re stuck in the worst New York traffic ever because Godzilla decided to start throwing young girls from the Empire State Building (I’m just a sheltered Canadian, I don’t know what New York City traffic is like).
Finally you get to your destination only to see some jerk stealing your customer. Angry, you decide to confront the ingrate who’s about to drive away. A comical Three Stooges-like fight breaks out. Finally, your former customer interjects, “Hey guys, don’t fight! Taxi dude was taking a long time and I had an appointment, so I tried this Uber thing my friend told me about. I was quoted to be picked up in five minutes and it was cheaper, too. Sorry.”
Imagine how you would feel after that. You worked so hard, navigated around Godzilla, endured yearly inspections and went through all those background checks for nothing. You have to keep on your toes, keep driving around while some jerk gets to park wherever they want and work whatever hours they like. They get a better pay out of it, too.
So why not join it?
Since Uber is still a relatively new company — even if it is valued at $17 billion — cities across North America are rushing to ban the whole thing. Cities are falling back on the whole legal and safety excuse of “it’s illegal without a taxi license”. But the real reason is money — cities are losing thousands of dollars on Uber. Thousands. Maybe even hundreds of thousands.
Turns out, it makes taxis a lot more enjoyable and cheaper when the government isn’t gouging the drivers inspection and license costs every single year. And when the Average Joe with a driver’s license in a terrible recession learns he or she can earn a few extra bucks carting people around on the side, it makes the whole business model irresistible.
Granted, the rigorous inspections may make the traditional taxis safer — but arguably not by much. Just take a look at all the reports here of taxi driver assaults. And, for sake of balance, Uber drivers are equally guilty. Insurance for UberX drivers is sometimes a concern, too.
Clearly it’s not all a safety and legal issue — Uber drivers by and large still have their background checks and upkeep their own cars and insurance. What it really is, at the end of the day, is a business that is threatening the financial security of the taxi industry, which in turn feeds municipal and federal governments.
But say the governments of the world band together and Uber is taken down — then what? People who grew accustomed to Uber’s methods will create a huge demand for the same service. Ultimately, what the populace wants is what the populace will get, and another Uber-like taxi service will take its place.