Posted in Opinions

Taxis need to stop suing and stop sucking

If taxis and municipal governments took Uber as a reason to be better at transport rather than as a source of conflict, everyone would benefit

Image Credits: Phoebe Joy Lim

If there’s one big threat to a status quo, it’s the rise of competition that you can’t just sweep under the rug. When people see the holes in the way things are being run, it’s pretty much a given that somebody’s going to come out of the woodwork to try and take you down. Prime example: the mediocrity of taxicabs, targeted by the ascension of ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft.

This, understandably, is a threatening concept. When Uber started muscling in on taxicab territory, it was just a matter of time before the legal actions started going off.

A few months ago, the taxicab industry launched a $215 million lawsuit against Ottawa for allegedly not doing enough to defend their livelihoods. Similar cases have been cropping up across North America for the past couple of years in places like New York. Uber themselves faced upwards of 50 lawsuits in 2015 alone.

Don’t get me wrong; in a lot of respects, the way Uber does things is just a little bit shady. For instance, the whole dispute over just what Uber drivers are considered to be (Employees? Independent contractors? Random citizens linked up to give each other rides by a social media app?) has raised questions about how things like tax laws and labour laws should be applied to them and their company.

But the ethics behind how Uber runs their operation are a separate conversation. The problem I have is this: competitors are cropping up, and rather than this being an impetus for the taxicab industry to improve, it’s been a source of three-way conflict eating up time and money better spent elsewhere.

Taxis aren’t in danger because of Uber. They’re in danger because they’re stuck in a rut of conducting themselves the same way as they always have, partially through their own lack of change and partially because their municipal governments aren’t giving them the freedom to compete properly.

People like Uber for a lot of reasons: it’s cheaper, it tracks the car called to you, it’s often perceived to be faster, etc. If cities that enforce base charges upon taxis gave more freedom for the companies to decide their own rates and make other changes to compete with Uber drivers, we’d have a healthier system of different drivers competing and forcing each other to become better.

At the same time, there are plenty of simple ways for taxis to stay ahead of Uber that aren’t generally restricted by city laws — for instance, investigating the claims that Uber provides quicker pickup times and faster transport, establishing better communication between drivers and those getting picked up, and developing a stronger online presence.

I understand the frustrations faced by taxis right now, but firing off lawsuits like this isn’t the best. Not only does the deluge of legal actions make it harder and harder to take any one issue with Uber seriously, but it comes before any real concentrated efforts to improve. Beyond all that, people just aren’t likely to sympathize with taxis when they’re flat-out happier with Uber.

It doesn’t matter how many times taxis win their suits. Until they do their jobs better, they’ll always be fighting uphill battles. Both city governments and taxi companies need to take companies like Uber and Lyft as incentives to work together and be better.