An ex-cabbie’s view: Leave Uber alone

Screen Shot 2014-06-23 at 11.02.31 AMPrint newspapers have nearly been put out of existence by the Internet, but they never went running to the authorities to bar the web sites. That would have been laughable. And it may be just a matter of time before the Internet finishes off print publishing.

Now we find the hidebound cab industry trying to blunt Uber’s momentum by appealing to the authorities to weigh it down with bureaucratic rules. The Internet, it seems, is forcing change on the cab industry, which is now looking to be saved by regulatory bodies. It is those bureaucrats who are partly responsible for the cab industry’s decrepit state.

Conservative Boston Globe columnist John Sununu with whom I rarely agree nailed it this morning. Leave Uber alone.

My viewpoint today is shaped by my time as a Boston cab driver from 1972-76 when I was in my 20s. The cabs were dirty, dilapidated and unsafe wrecks. Many had hundreds of thousands of miles on them and in those days, cars were far less reliable and well-built than they are today. One Plymouth Fury I had was badly broadsided on a Friday. It was back on the road the following Monday as one of those cars whose frame is so twisted, it appeared to trundle down the road sideways.

Back then, some owners were corrupt not to mention greedy and they still are as evidenced by the Globe series about corrupt owner’s fleecing drivers. The oversight by the Hackney division of the Boston Police Dept. then as now was pathetic to non-existent. They have been a tool of the owners forever.

Little has changed in Boston cab industry since I drove for Town Taxi and the mostly for the Independent Taxi Owners Association where I rented a cab. That’s the model used mostly today in Boston. Owners don’t have provide benefits because cab drivers are independent contractors, not employees. As a sign of the times, health insurance when I drove was the furthest thing from my mind. After all, I was invincible in my early and mid-twenties.

Uber says it is in 38 countries, but I can only knowledgeably speak to the situation in Boston. However, I suspect the cab industry and the words “progressive” or “modern” are rarely used in the same sentence no matter where you go.

Uber is a service the traveling public craves because cabs are such an unappealing option. And granted Uber may require oversight at some point, but we should not shackle it because the anachronistic cab industry is whining about the competitive threat. Indeed, they boisterously object to competition periodically. Just ask more efficient bus and limo operators.

As a car dependent resident of suburbia, I’ve have never used Uber, but will give it try when I am in the city again.

I feel for the drivers and recognize that taxis are a ready source of employment for many newcomers to our country. I also am sympathetic to unemployed journalists and believe me, there’s plenty of them. Still, journalists like me have faced up to the harsh reality they must find gainful employment in something other than traditional newspapers and magazines. Maybe some cab drivers should get out of their taxis.

Our society thrives on innovation and it should not be stifled by one of the most change-averse industries in America.

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2 comments On An ex-cabbie’s view: Leave Uber alone

  • Bernhard Heersink

    I liked this article. Made me curious to try Uber if/when I get the chance.

  • Todd R. Weiss

    Another Ex-Cabbie’s View…

    Hi John,
    Sorry, but I must disagree with you.
    The problem with your argument is that you use generalities that just don’t apply to today’s modern taxi company.
    I also drove a taxi in college, when I was at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. I drove for Union Cab of Madison. I started in Plymouth Volares and Dodge Aspens, which held up well and logged more than 300,000 miles each. Then we moved to Dodge Reliant K-cars, which only were around for a few years. I left cab driving when I finished college and moved home to Philadelphia, but I stay in close touch with my friends at Union Cab.
    Following the K-cars, they moved to Chevrolet Caprices and Ford Crown Victorias, then eventually to the Toyota Prius taxis they run today.
    We had a great and talented maintenance crew that took fabulous care of the fleet. I never drove an unsafe taxi — ever.
    The cabs were clean and well maintained. If a car had a mechanical issue, we were encouraged to bring it back to the shop and exchange it for a different cab, leaving a note for the mechanics about what was wrong with the original taxi.
    The old generalizations about taxis and taxi companies are so hackneyed themselves, I get tired of the tales. Yes, I am sure it was that way for you and others, but it wasn’t everywhere.
    When I travel today, whether in New York City or Las Vegas or New Orleans or San Francisco or Orlando, I have typically been in clean, comfortable, nice taxis with drivers who have been pleasant and helpful.
    As a former cabbie, I am sick of the old stereotypes that still exist.
    Sure, there are bad taxi operations in places, but that’s NOT the state of the industry, I’d argue.
    I object to Uber as a former cabbie because they want all the advantages of serving customers and making money without all the responsibilities and permits and regulation that taxi drivers are subject to today.
    That’s ridiculous.
    That’s like a new taxi company coming in and saying they don’t want to follow the rules.
    That’s wrong.
    And that’s why Uber needs to follow the same rules that any competing taxi service has to follow if they want to provide service.
    Uber is just another taxi service with a management team that’s trying to skirt the rules.
    New technology? They should do what they want?
    When they are driving Jetson’s jet cars through the skies, then they’ll have a new technology that can adapt with new rules. In the meantime, they are driving traditional cars on our roads in the same ways taxis get people around on the streets.
    Uber needs to follow the rules for existing taxis or get out of the business.
    Besides, cool cabs are yellow.
    Best wishes.

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