Strict regulation of car sharing derails innovation
Many Wellesley students are already familiar with Uber, the highly lauded and criticized San Francisco-based company that offers its customers a car-share service through an eponymous app. Uber touts its service as a legitimate alternative to city taxis and other transportation services. Its website promises consumers the chance to “share experiences, woo the moment, and create an escape.”
Uber’s opponents question the safety of its customers and point to alleged fluctuations in its service quality as signals of the service’s inherent unreliability. What’s a Wellesley student to do—eschew the service altogether or take advantage of it in a responsible and pragmatic way? I hold the latter view.
Uber’s meteoric ascent is no secret. A mere five years after its inception, Uber is earning several billion dollars in annual revenue and serves 42 countries and 200 cities. The rise of car sharing companies like Uber and Lyft coincides with a decrease in the taxi industry’s revenue in cities where both types of transportation services are allowed free rein. These related trajectories beg the question of how such a fledgling company could begin to break down the long-held monopoly of the taxi industry on transportation services.
One plausible response is that Uber simply capitalized on the deeply-rooted dissatisfaction of many taxi riders by offering them a more cheap, reliable and comfortable means of transportation. Consequentially, customers have been returning in droves. Despite Uber’s occasional hiccups in rider service, the service is best described by its affordable fare, typically friendly and punctual drivers, and comfortable experience.
Despite Uber’s widespread success, critics of the service often question its user safety. Overall, Uber is at least as safe as most taxi companies. Crimes committed by Uber drivers on their customers, such as a San Francisco driver’s assault on passenger James Alva last winter, are tragic and well documented. However, these incidents do not constitute evidence of Uber being less safe than other services.
To reduce the inevitable risk of interacting with strangers, Wellesley students can prudently apply the very policy they use when riding public transportation and taxis: travel with a trusted friend. To hold drivers accountable, Uber relies on an anonymous user rating system, regularly inspects its driver-provided vehicles and offers up to one million dollars in insurance “for those injured by a negligent driver,” while Massachusetts law only requires $20,000.
A Wellesley student can also take the initiative of asking Uber drivers for their full names in advance and performing a quick check on their credentials. It goes without saying that Wellesley students should never enter an Uber vehicle they did not order.
Uber opponents also insist that the service is operating in many cities without licenses. The sad fact is that many American cities are engaging in discriminatory practices that relegate legitimate services like Uber to the “illegal taxicab industry.” In New York City, the medallion system reserves a limited amount of licenses for taxis. Since Uber is not a taxi service, it is illegal for the company to collect fares in the city.
Other cities refuse to grant Uber licences despite the fact that the company’s regulations on drivers and vehicles are comparable to that of most taxi companies. The grim truth is that many governments refuse to legalize Uber and other car-sharing companies because of lobbying efforts by taxi companies and a desire to maintain the status quo. Profiting through a outdated taxi-dominated industry is more important to the government than letting the transportation market become competitive and benefit society through lower prices and increased service.
More specifically, Uber is an excellent and streamlined service for Wellesley students. Fares are typically much cheaper than those of taxis and can be easily split between two students. No cash or tip is required for Uber service; all fees are sent to the student’s credit card account after the trip. In one fell swoop, this Uber policy eliminates the need for a Wellesley student to rush to Lulu to withdraw from the ATM and decreases the chance of an incident occurring while customers take out their wallets to pay the driver.
The app allows customers to track the path of approaching drivers, pay their fares, and order different kinds of vehicles depending on their transportation needs. Perhaps most relevant, Uber vehicles are an excellent alternative for Wellesley students to the few and highly requested taxis that operate in Boston.
Overall, Uber is a reliable service that envisions the future as a time for fewer vehicles to roam the road, guzzle gas and pollute our environment. The service’s reliance on credit cards reflects both a desire to cater to customer convenience and our society’s gradual abandonment of paper for plastic.
Perhaps most impressively, Uber presents cash-strapped students an alternative that can be relied on to fulfill its promises of efficiency. Wellesley students should regard the emergence of this innovative service as a boon and help convince cities and governments around the world that Uber is the gateway to the future of transportation and should be supported rather than shuttered as it evolves.