For Article number one, or blog number one on my redesigned Lazytime website I decided to jump right on in on Uber.
What is Uber in a few words. It’s a technology company (not a transportation company) that provides an app to connect people with people. More specifically drivers and those needing rides. Essentially a backdoor Taxi service. Unregulated, hardly monitored and usually operating in violation of regulations and laws. But I will get to that part later.
In many major cities around the world where it is difficult to get a cab, especially on weekend nights the service Uber provides has taken off. Vancouver for example is one of those markets with very tightly controlled Taxi numbers resulting in great difficulty in getting a cab when you really need one after a good Friday night. Even if you live in a market with plentiful Taxi’s such as New York City, Uber still has taken off because of the ease of use and the affordability it allows. And lets not kid ourselves either, a lot of Taxi drivers are just plain jerks. Not all of them but enough of them that people are more then willing to explore a alternative.
Lets start on the good things about Uber before I drill down into the ugly side. Uber is a free market system. Supply and demand really works here. The traditional Taxi business requires scarcity in order to be financially viable. If you have to many Taxi’s for your market you end up not being profitable. The downside to this is the inability to adapt to needs like after a special event. Result is not enough Taxi’s and lots of angry people waiting hours to get home. Uber is mostly made up of part time drivers who have regular jobs already. So on special event nights that extra influx of drivers can really make the difference to the general public.
Uber is more affordable. This is because the drivers have far fewer regulatory costs involved. This is also a very serious problem but I will address that in the bad things about Uber. For students, single moms, unemployed people and those just looking to save a buck Uber can provide a affordable alternative and a convenience that many could not make use of before.
Stimulate local economies, this is one I might be going out on a limb for but the more affordable transportation is, the more people go out and do things. You might have a entire segment of the population wanting to go out on Friday and Saturday nights that don’t because of cost and issues with accessing reliable transportation home after a night of drinking.
Now let’s look at the bad side before I offer my suggestions on how to fix it. Uber currently ignores regulations and out right rejects them. These regulations are in place to protect the public and also creates a monopoly for the traditional Taxi services. These regulations are mostly for the good of people which include fare disputes, pricing, insurance, maintenance upkeep, record tracking, driving qualifications and so on. Uber for all intents and purposes hardly does a good job on the criminal background check and essentially nothing on vehicle checks, insurance checks and so on.
Uneven playing field is by far the greatest problem presented by this issue on regulations. Taxi companies and Taxi drivers spend a lot of money to be compliant with regulations. And when they are angry that any one with a car and a phone can start picking up paying customers I feel they have a right to be because of this. Taxi drivers spend thousands of dollars a year to be compliant with rules. This is a cost that Uber drivers do not have. Taxi drivers just can not compete in any level against this cost disparity.
As for the rest of the regulations that get ignored, Uber has allowed many people with criminal records to become drivers. With no way to really enforce vehicle condition, driving knowledge, experience and liability insurance the public is at the mercy of the driver in personal safety from assaults to just having a capable driver getting a person from location to location and safely. And worst when accidents occur that the Uber drivers insurance will cover the passenger which most often is not the case. A quick google search identifies hundreds of incidents world wide of people being assaulted by Uber drivers, left personal belongings being held at ransom for hundreds of dollars, drivers getting completely lost and even drivers robbing customers. Accidents are another big item with hundreds of passengers world wide being left with no compensation because the insurance companies refused over the commercial activity and the drivers having no liability insurance.
At this point in the game I personally find the negatives to outweigh the benefits of the service and support the position currently on cities demanding they stop operating. But only because of these problems that can be fixed by changing the regulations that control the market on the Provincial and State levels.
Changes I would like to see include:
State and Provincial Level, drivers expected to do these independent of any company they work for.
1) Drivers require a certified criminal background check every year.
2) Drivers vehicles (company or personal) must be inspected yearly by a Provincial or State agency.
3) Drivers must have a acceptable driving record with at fault accidents, and years of driving experience.
4) Drivers must pass a special road exam at the start of certification and redo the exam every 5 years.
5) Drivers must pass a medical exam of good health every year.
6) Drivers must have liability insurance.
7) Drivers auto insurance must be commercial insurance. (Taxi company owned vehicles would cover this)
8) Drivers must display in view of passengers the rights they have and a number to file complaints against the driver.
9) Drivers must display the permit that allows them to be a driver.
On the city level I believe the city has the right to conduct a knowledge test of the city’s roads, landmarks and layout. A driver should be able to mostly navigate free of technology aids like GPS. I am not saying they shouldn’t be allowed to have GPS, but in order to be licensed as a driver they should have a working knowledge of the market they intend to work out of.
All these exams, and tests apply to ALL drivers. Taxi drivers and Uber Drivers. A single yearly fee can be collected by a central authority that licenses individuals to operate a passenger vehicle. Taxi companies can not reimburse employees for these expenses. These are all out of pocket of any one that wants to drive for either a Taxi company or independently or for online services like Uber.
This creates a level playing field. This also ensures the drivers that are independent or working under Uber or any commercial company are equally vetted and current with licensing, insurance and deemed safe to do the job. This will add cost to Uber drivers but it’s the same cost commercial Taxi drivers will also incur. This levels the playing field greatly while addressing the issues of insurance, liability and safety. More important this would require the cooperation of Uber with the State/Province and Cities to work. Uber would have to rely on the State and Provincial authorities that issue permits to allow an Uber driver to operate under Uber. With out that cooperation all these changes would amount to nothing and Uber would continue to operate in a illegal way. I personally think Uber has a lot more to gain by the legitimization of its drivers through a process like this. It also provides the safety the public needs and smashes the monopoly that Taxi companies enjoy now.
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