Column: Why Uber is taking the front seat

In this photo taken Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014, a man leaves the headquarters of Uber in San Francisco. (Eric Risberg/AP)

In small towns unbeknownst to the taxi industry, Uber has stepped in and made socializing simpler and more plausible. With the growth of Uber has come an increase in people going out and spending money in town centers much smaller than any of the big cities.

Living in Connecticut, where the taxi industry does not generally thrive, makes it hard for people without cars to get to where they are going. But it won’t be difficult anymore. When waving down a taxi is impossible, Uber lets you leave it to a smartphone app to hail a driver to your door and straight to your destination.

On top of the convenience of this transportation network, prices for Uber rides are generally less expensive than taxis. There is no fumbling with cash at the end of the ride as the taxi meter continues to increase, because the price is set when the car stops at the end point and is paid for by card through an Uber account. This innovative and intelligent company began in 2009 in San Francisco, and after six years of slow expansion the networking industry is now coming to a head with taxi businesses in numerous cities. 

Earlier this summer in Canada, Quebec tax authorities stormed the headquarters of Uber in Montreal on charges of tax evasion and not owning proper taxi permits. Revenue officials in Quebec were searching the headquarters on grounds that the UberX service – the service where drivers use their own personal vehicles to pick up passengers – does not collect taxes from its drivers nor do its drivers have tax numbers for provincial tax collection. The drivers merely are independent contractors with Uber – they can create their own hours and receive a weekly pay.

The provincial Transport Minister and Montreal’s mayor both dispute this and do not support UberX, as they stated that it operates without official taxi permits. In Toronto, taxi drivers and owners stopped traffic in May outside the City Hall to protest Uber. Taxi drivers in cities all over the world are infuriated that part of their income is being diverted away to this cab hail service.

In New York City, The Economist recently analyzed whether Uber is in fact the only source taking away revenue from the taxi industry, or just an addition to the transport options in New York. Specifically, the article evaluated whether Uber substitutes or complements the taxi industry.

Over the last year, the average price of one medallion, or a taxi license in NYC, has fallen from $1 million during the summer of 2014 to $690,000 within the last few months. Uber definitely has contributed to this decline, but it is not the only reason for the taxi industry’s loss.

Over the last year, demand for rides in the city has risen and therefore the total amount of rides taken – including for hire companies like both Uber and taxis – has increased by one million. Some of the passengers who chose to use Uber would have otherwise walked home, taken the Subway, or bus. Not everyone would have chosen a taxi instead.

There is also the older generation, which does not use smartphones as maniacally as the younger generation does, and would choose taxis over a hire service that requires a smartphone app. Uber is most convenient in the middle of the night when the comfort of ordering one on your phone beats standing in the street waiting for a taxi to pass.

Uber has massively transformed the transportation industry. In an age where smartphones are partially taking over our lives, why not use it as a convenient and safe way to find rides home? At the very least, Uber has sparked a fire in the taxi industry to perhaps become more efficient than it has been in the past. Maybe taxis should install GPS technology to ensure the quickest route is taken to a person’s destination? Or maybe the meter should be stopped when the car stops, not while the passenger is hastily searching for money to pay the driver?

Uber is just the beginning of expedient ground travel, and it should not be stopped. Let the world of taxis, borrow cars and for-hail cabs unite and make transportation safer and easier.


Aly McTague is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at alyvia.mctague@uconn.edu.