How ridesharing has changed our lives for the better

She lives in the Sunset. It’s a neighborhood in west San Francisco, six-seven miles from the downtown area. BART, the Bay Area’s rapid transit system, as it’s called, doesn’t go there. Some buses probably do, but it’s a massive hassle to get there anyway.

Let’s call her Mrs. Johnson, even though it’s not her real name. She’s about 40 years old, lives with her husband, works downtown and occasionally goes out with friends and coworkers. When after a night out she wants to get home, she hails a cab. She gets into a cab and tells the driver her destination.

The cabbie refuses to take her. Even to the extent of kicking her out of the cab. “Once he already started driving and when I told him I wanted to go to the Sunset, he stopped and told me to get out. He literally refused to take me.”

The reason to that is, the cabbie would probably not find a fare back, and would have to return empty. Even though the ride would have been at least $50, driving back empty is something cabbies don’t want to do. It’s illegal for taxi drivers to refuse to take a customer to their destination, and they can be sued by hiring an Orange County lawyer. But they simply don’t care. Driving seven miles without a fare is, apparently, a bigger issue than the legality of their actions and the very fact that their only purpose of existence is providing a service. For money.

He—let’s call him Mr. Thompson—is legally blind. He has a service dog, a nice Labrador retriever who helps him get around. He mostly takes public transport—buses, BART, etc. But now and then he needs to take a cab. And he can’t, because most taxi drivers refuse to let the dog into their cars. Even though it’s illegal to refuse a ride for a service animal, the cabbies don’t care, because they prefer not getting dog hair in their cars, which they would later have to clean up. And that, apparently, is a bigger issue than the legality of their actions.

These are just a few stories among hundreds I’ve heard about the absolute outrageousness that is called the taxi industry. It’s a well-known fact that cabbies are, in general, among the most careless drivers anywhere in the world. They’re often rude, they don’t care about traffic regulation or other drivers, and they most certainly don’t give a rat’s ass about the clients they’re supposed to serve. I’m generalizing, yes, but about 90 percent of the taxi drivers I’ve ever encountered—either as a client, or in traffic—match that description. As a frequent taxi hirer, it might get infuriating for one to put up with the attitude of such cabbies. For a change, one may ask from a motorlender a ride which can be used on a daly basis, rather than hiring a taxi.

If you happen to leave anything in a cab, it’s lost forever. You never know who’s your driver—you don’t know their name, unless you ask to see the cabbie permit (which most people don’t do). You can’t rate them and thus you don’t know how well or poorly rated they are. And since there is no rating system, they don’t have to do anything to offer you a pleasant ride. They just want to get you out of their cars to get the next customer.

There is no record of which cab you rode, who was your driver, how much you spent (if you pay cash, which many people do), which route you took, etc. And, even though taxi drivers say they’re “official” and thus not “strangers,” well, they certainly aren’t friends either. And since they’re completely unidentifiable, I would say that makes them more of strangers than the ones who can be identified.

The fact is, the need for ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft is the direct result of the incredible poor service the taxi companies offer. If the taxi companies offered a service that is competitive and sufficient to their clientele, the rideshare services would have never gotten so popular. It’s a very basic principle of a free market—the competitor who offers the best service gets the most clients. Therefore it’s completely unfair for anyone to assert that rideshare companies are stealing clients from the “real” taxis—by the same logic, it would be unfair for, let’s say, T-Mobile to board clients who previously used Sprint. As it is the customer’s right to choose the service provider of their preference, based on whatever subjective reasons they might have, the rideshare companies aren’t stealing anything; quite the opposite, they’re expanding a market by offering a competitive service that clients prefer to “the other guys.”

The more idiotic are some cities’ efforts to curb the growth of ridesharing services, or even outright ban them. For example, in New York, the communist mayor Bill De Blasio wants to set a cap of 25,000 Uber cars in the city. Considering there are 22,000 Uber drivers in San Francisco, a city of 800,000, one struggles to understand how could a cap of 25,000 drivers benefit anyone in a city of 10 million? Of course, in the case of New York City, the taxi commission appears to be a major sponsor of the city’s Democrats—and of course, those same Democrats who run the city couldn’t possibly do anything to harm their sponsor. But the truth of the matter is, when a governing body makes decisions that are detrimental to the people they’re governing, they will not last in their office for very long. One can only hope that this principle applies even to such a heavily Democratic city as NYC—the longer the pattern of harm, the more people come to realize who are the ones who are doing the harm.

In further defense of the ridesharing industry, it’s also worth to mention that even though taxi drivers these days have bumper stickers saying “Uber/Lyft, finally jobs for registered sex offenders,” the truth is, taking a rideshare car is probably safer than a taxi. As previously mentioned, taxi drivers aren’t identifiable unless you really take a look at their license and make a note of it. Rideshare drivers can all be identified—you always know the name and the rating of the driver, and if anything should happen, you can always complain to the company. And since it’s always known who was the driver and who was the passenger, finding the rotten apples is a hell of a lot easier than with taxis.

Uber and Lyft insignia on a car. Services like these should be encouraged.
Uber and Lyft insignia on a car. Services like these should be encouraged.

Moreover, unlike taxi drivers, the rideshare drivers are carefully vetted. Their backgrounds are checked, their cars are inspected, and the companies take the safety of the passengers very seriously. There’s a lot smaller chance of riding with a “registered sex offender” in a rideshare car than in a taxi. And, since you know the name of your driver even before they arrive, the taxi driver’s other favorite bumper sticker, “Didn’t your mother tell you not to ride with strangers,” is more about those anonymous cabbies themselves, rather than the fully identifiable—and friendly—rideshare drivers.

Rideshare companies fill an important void in the market, and they are here to stay. Until the taxi companies and commissions fully transform themselves to competitive entities who can be preferred in a free and open market, they have no right to complain. And the authorities should realize this on their own—instead of trying to ban or curb the rideshare companies and their growth, they should embrace competition, new technology and making their people’s lives easier.

Because now Mrs. Johnson can get home. And Mr. Thompson can ride in a car together with his service dog.

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