I like your thinking Katherine, if only city leaders would have an incentive to negotiate more effectively with powerful disrupters of regulated industries. In some respects Uber serves politicians because it takes the dirty work away from them. Politicians in major cities don’t have an appetitite to fight the monopolistic, corrupt ways of taxi services (or more appropriately taxi owners, not drivers).
It’s akin to cities not building affordable housing, for example, when the funds exist. Instead politicians bid for Olympic games or other major events because that’s the only way they can stomach taking initiative on important projects that benefit their more marginalized citizens. But better for me not to digress into that arena.
When considering Uber’s pros and cons, I try to move away from each side’s propoganda and consider the micro and macro factors. On the micro level, I’ve been in enough dirty Toronto cabs with unsafe drivers, lacking appropriate knowledge of city streets. Further, there is the regular resistance to accepting credit cards, and even lying about not capable of accepting credit payments. The propoganda of the taxi industry is that it’s unsafe to ride with anyone but them. And yet they have great difficulty differentiating what makes them safer and more reputable.
Uber, like any competition provides a benefit to the marketplace: an opportunity for consumers to move away from lesser quality providers who have not listened to consumer complaints for years.
On the macro level, this reminds me of the early 80´s when Japan’s auto industry provided what the American industry couldn’t: better quality vehicles which lasted longer, etc., etc. The reaction of the American manufacturers is much the same as taxi companies reactions today. Perhaps more regulation of Uber is needed, and hopefully like Japanese cars, Uber is here to stay. It’s better for consumers to have this kind of choice. And difficult as it may seem, the taxi industry may even shift it’s current perspective and paradigm, and find ways to improve. This way we all win. I’m reminded of my days living in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Watching the fisherman and pelicans compete each morning for the daily catch. And yet, there is always enough to go around.
Now I live in Bogotá, Colombia. I’ve only used Uber once, and my wife booked the ride. We were greeted by a clean, modern car. Did he drive more safely than a taxista? Generally, yes. But Bogotá has a different standard for safe driving than U.S. and Canadian cities anyhow. Taxi drivers are protesting Uber’s market entry here too. Sometimes, they attack Uber drivers and their customers. This is influencing my decision to stick with taxis, for now.
I have had mixed experiences with taxistas here in Bogotá. Generally their cars are clean. On only a couple of my many rides, have the drivers tried to scam me, despite being metered. Most know the city well. The majority of them drive dangerously, even by standards here. Further, on a number of occasions they refuse to take you, if they don’t feel like driving in a particular direction. My assumption is that Uber would never refuse a pick up, and locate their drivers strategically throughout the city. And Uber has recently introduced English-speaking drivers. What a bonus for travellers, as almost no taxistas speak English.
Uber brings the kind of creativity and smarts to meet consumer needs. They may not be a corporate saint (please find me one in the service industry. We can already discount telecom companies, airlines…), but they provide the wakeup call to existing monopolies and oligopolies that were not being challenged to improve by our urban leadership.