It happened in Paris and involved a barricade of burning debris, hand-to-hand combat and hostage taking. Something right out of a modern day, Les Miserables, right?
No, this is a modern day war where cabbies are attacking passengers who have chosen a competitive alternative to the Taxi called Uber. All across Uberworld seismic shifts in passenger transport are taking root as consumers fed up with the monopolized world of the untouchable – taxicabs – say enough is enough.
As a road warrior who has traveled most every week for over thirty years, the Uber revolution is too good to be true. This revolt is nothing like the noble battles for freedom by French revolutionaries. These French angry men hacks are caught in a global fracture in one of the great bastions of cronyisms and political favoritism.
Everyone has their own favorite cab story and even I can take a nostalgic leap into the past to remember my favorite DC taxi driver, so proud of his shiny carriage and road wise to a fault. Taxis used to be something one would engage for a special occasion. And, I must imagine that the fable taxi unions once wore a badge of honor, before the city hall gang realized that they could be tapped for political expediency.
But that was then and this is now and now has by necessity created the Uber alternative to a failed system that is fighting for its life. I have literally witnessed my life flash in front of me in the backseat of a taxicab, broadsided on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. I learned why one never wants to be in an accident in a taxi. My attorney has worked for years to recoup my loss of income, extensive hospital and emergency services charges to no avail. Who owns these taxicabs that city councils and mayors allow on public streets? When you get into an accident in one, you’ll find that a hard question to answer. Uber, on the other hand requires insurance.
My litany of horrors in cabs is a long one. A few examples will suffice. In Washington, DC, my cab ran out of gas on a back road to Dulles Airport. I had to hitch to a highway. In Philadelphia, the taxis were so bad that I had a spring pop up and rip the seat of my pants on the way to giving a speech at a conference. In New Orleans cabs were so grimy that I carried handy wipes in my brief case. In Ft. Lauderdale, most every encounter with a taxi required that I be able to explain how to get to my destination. Cab drivers in New York, well, we won’t even go there.
I’ve endured burping, sneezing, farting, spitting, spilling and most any imaginable foul behavior from drivers of taxis. Cabs bearing stickers allowing credit card use never had a working card reader. I can’t count the times I had to egg on drivers to turn on their meters. I’ve been left in the rain, snow, sleet and hail as cabs only picked up those with luggage (oh, an airport trip?). I’ve been cursed at. I’ve been made to leave my route to take on additional fares going in opposite directions. And, I’ve frequently been left at the wrong address.
So, now in the spirit of free enterprise, Uber is on the scene and it has overnight changed the public transportation industry. In response, all of a sudden taxi meters and credit card readers are working. Jalopy taxis are being replaced by new vehicles, some even eco-friendly. Courteous drivers are appearing out of nowhere. All the while, massive attacks are being made against Uber.
Oh, don’t get me wrong; I’m far from a union buster. In fact my idea of a good union is one who takes care of these issues before we have a public outcry for change. This story is about a sad legacy, one that created a new answer to public carriage because old style cronyism has lost its way down a dead end street. Now, in city council chambers across America, we hear a cry of unfair play by Uberists who are a threat to our society. Uber critics and a small number of litigants say that the company should hire its drivers and not utilize their services as independent employees. Well, that sounds like a perfect way to screw up something that allows clean cars, with working air conditioners, four new tires and a driver with GPS to be buried under the bureacracy of cabworld.
If being able to use my Uber app to call for a car, follow its movement toward me on my iPhone, have an email from my driver to secure my location, know exactly how long it will take for my transport to arrive and then step into a clean vehicle, knowing my fare and not having to produce cash or a card, then I am ready to accept this anonymous threat.
The fight against Uber is a fight against ingenuity and betterment. Uber will make some mistakes; they are a start up for goodness sakes. But I am willing to bet that this healthy competition will make the public safer and better able to rely on transportation than an ancient transit enterprise that feel behind the times, lost any quality standards and deserved to lose the confidence of a mobile public.
For now, give me the peace and quiet and don’t make me be a victim of violence in cabworld. That’s one conflict I wish to avoid.
The Peace Man