What can be done to fix it?
There’s been a lot of stories written about Uber and the push back it has received from the taxicab industry. All over the world there have been mass protests by cab drivers angered by Uber and its ride sharing service UberX. Additionally, Uber has run afoul of the laws governing drivers for hire in different areas.
To put it simply, these cab drivers feel that UberX and UberXL its SUV sibling, is undercutting them by allowing non-commercially licensed drivers to transport passengers, even though they are limited only to people who use Uber’s smart phone app and cannot pick up street hails. It is also worth noting that Uber provides its non-commercial ride sharing drivers with insurance for the driver and every passenger in the car, up to 1 million dollars per incident.
Uber is more than just ride-sharing as it has a number of different services that do utilize commercially licensed, insured and registered drivers (Uber Taxi, Uber Black Car and Uber SUV). Actually, when Uber first started, all it offered was the luxury sedan service (now known as Uber Black), which people in D.C. were fanatical about using due to the smart phone app technology. They also didn’t seem to mind paying more for the luxury ride vs. taking a regular taxi.
What the taxicab industry has been slow to recognize is that Uber did what the industry should’ve been doing all along and that was innovating and providing better customer service. While there were alternative smart phone apps on the scene like Taxi Magic, the truth is that the app is only part of the equation.
When you talk to customers their major beefs with your average hack is that they can be impolite, keep dirty vehicles, take a very long time to pick someone up if called over the phone, ignore your hails which can be due to a number of biases and they can refuse to take you somewhere if they feel it is not in their interests.
With Uber you don’t have to hail or call anyone. The smart phone app is so revolutionary in that you can see where your driver is and how long it is going to take for them to arrive at your location. Drivers using Uber cannot discriminate and they have to take you to your destination. Lastly, there is no need to exchange money as payment is done through Uber’s app online (the downside is you cannot tip). The professionalism and politeness of Uber’s ride sharing and commercial drivers have also been noted by customers, hence the second part of the equation being customer service.
Despite all that I’ve just pointed out about taxi cab companies and taxi drivers there are reasons to care about these drivers and their futures as working people.
The daily life of a taxi cab driver in the District of Columbia (and Maryland and Virginia for that matter) can be one filled with quite a number of obstacles. Many drivers work 12 hour shifts. Most cab drivers before Obamacare didn’t get healthcare benefits because they were independently registered or their cab company didn’t provide them. Some drivers are charged an enormous amount of money, either by cab companies or vendors, to keep equipment in their cabs which allow them to accept credit cards and operate taxi meters. In addition if they are employed by a cab company that company might also be passing along the credit card transaction fees to the driver.
In DC cab drivers are facing attacks from many different directions. They have to deal with a Taxi and Limousine Commission that is hostile to cab drivers, especially if they are of a foreign nationality. There is also a push underway to rid the city of the independently registered cab driver in favor of one that must work under a central cab company. I’m told that the TLC is no longer issuing these independent registrations. This actually prevents new taxi drivers from signing up to use Uber and its Uber Taxi service.
So in addition to the pressures cab drivers currently face it’s only natural that they would look at something like Uber unfavorably. They go through a lot to get the approval to drive a taxi and are now being upstaged by non-commercial drivers.
One of the overlooked issues of the Uber-Taxi driver divide is that of the cab company. They can often be the reason why taxi fares are as high as they are compared to the fares of UberX and its other services. I’ve spoken to former taxi drivers turned Uber Black drivers who are very happy to have been alleviated of the repression of the cab company. Sure, they have to go out and get their own vehicles but they have more freedom and earn a larger share of the revenue coming from fares.
Whatever is to be the fate of the modern taxi driver, it is in our best interests as members of a larger community to ensure that we don’t leave them behind. They require a level playing field to operate. This doesn’t mean the repression of new technologies and new ways of doing business, but we have to take taxi drivers into account when devising new regulations.