Cab industry being decimated by Uber and Lyft

Cab industry being decimated by Uber and Lyft
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Cab industry being decimated by Uber and Lyft

There is an increasing threat of violence taking place as independent Uber and Lyft drivers push the heavily regulated Taxi Cab industry out of the market. Uber and Lyft are more convenient and use cell phone apps, but is convenience a good alternative to safety? The Taxi Cab industry is also th elanding industry for many new immigrants who come to America and I don’t understand why Americans who claim to care for immigrants don’t care about the devastating impact Uber and Lyft are having on their lives?

By Ray Hanania

When I arrived in Boston to cover a Harvard conference, I stepped out in Logan Airport’s transportation area and found a fascinating dilemma. On my left, some 100 or more people pulling luggage were standing in line waiting to take an Uber or Lyft home. On my right, where I walked, I was the only person in line for 30 Taxi Cabs that sat still like a dead parking lot.

Cell phones and online apps were murdering another industry, and in the process destroying more lives.

In the 1980s, taxi cabs were riding high. The two major cab companies, Yellow and Checker, were facing a rebellion of sorts as some independent business people were buying their own “Medallions,” the very expensive metal license that entitled the holder to operate a Taxi Cab.

Medallions cost about $30,000 back then. A few years ago, the Medallion was selling for as much as $300,000. For many independent taxi medallion owners, the Medallion was their retirement system.

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Easily identified Yellow Taxi Cab. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Easily identified Yellow Taxi Cab. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

It was the American Dream. Immigrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East came to America and opened the taxi cab industry door for their first jobs.

Yet today, all that has vanished. The Taxi Cab industry is vanishing being replaced by a sketchy system of mildly regulated drivers mainly by a lot of people who want to make as much money as possible as cheaply as possible.

Yet everyday, we continue to hear stories about violence by these cyber App drivers. Unlike the Taxi Cab industry where drivers are finger printed, Uber and Lyft drivers are not. You have no idea about the person whose driving that car that picks you up in response to an App request.

Taxi Cab drivers have had their issues, of course. The usual stuff. Drivers who sit in a cab for 24 hours make for an unpleasant smelling ride. There have been charges that cab drivers would not respond to calls from some neighborhoods plagued by excessive violence. Chicago is a cesspool of violence and its population is fleeing to the suburbs bringing the population down from 3 to 2.7 million people. Chicago is no longer the “Second City.” It’s running third hounded by Houston and in a few years will drop to the Fourth City with no chance of overcoming Los Angeles which is topping nearly 4 million people.

But the Taxi Cab industry was a stepping stone to new immigrants, you know, the people that the Left champion as a political cause when it is convenient for them. Turns out the Left doesn’t really like immigrants at all, just those that help it advance its political agenda.

Part of the problem is that taxi cab drivers were a heavily regulated industry with tight background checks, management by employers and a dispatch network that monitored most of the cabs. You knew who was driving what and could find out immediately if a driver did wrong.

Back in the 80s I had one encounter with a taxi cab driver who cut me off. He didn’t like my corvette and pulled in front of my cutting me off at an intersection. When I raised my hands asking what he was doing, the driver got angry rolled his window down and flicked a lit cigarette in my face and then took off. Of course, I was a columnist with the Chicago Sun-Times and figured it would make a great story. I didn’t identify the driver, or his Cab number that was easily visible. I just liked the story. But I did identify his cab company and the owner quickly had his dispatchers track down where every cab was that morning, pinning it down to the driver. I remember going to the hearing hosted by the Chicago Office of Consumer Services after the driver was fired and heavily fined feeling sorry for the impact my column had on a man who lost it for just that one moment. And I testified on his behalf to help him keep his job.

The point is when a taxi cab driver does something, there is a system of knowledge maintained by the cab companies and regulated by a government agency. That’s not the case with Uber or Lyft.

The issue is safety and I wonder how safe Uber and Lyft really are. What do we really know about the drivers who are using their cars to pick up passengers.

The cab driver that picked me up at Logan Airport in Boston is named Abdi. He was African American, an immigrant who has been in this country for a number of years working hard to feed his family. The inside of the cab was plastered with city-mandated stickers with information. His name. A list of my rights as a passenger. A cab number displayed throughout. And, a clearly explained cost system so I knew I wasn’t being ripped off.

But the issue was safety. I felt safe in all that government regulation and bureaucracy. How safe are passengers sitting in an Uber or Lyft.

The most recent murder occurred on March 29 when a 21 year old University of South Carolina student was killed by a man posing as her Uber driver. How would she know? In 2017, police accused Musaab Afandi of posing as an Uber driver and sexually assaulting at least three women passengers. And many women are complaining of being uncomfortable when they enter a ride-sharing situation.

Why these problems? Because Uber and Lyft drivers really don’t work for anyone except themselves and are not held to a higher standard of conduct as are Taxi Cab drivers. I’m not saying Taxi Cab drivers don’t have problems. But they are more closely scrutinized by the companies they work for, companies you can easily identify.

You can’t tell who Uber or Lyft drivers really are when driving down the street, as easily as you can Yellow or Checker cab drivers in Chicago or Cambridge Cab drivers in Boston. Uber and Lyft have tiny stickers on their back window that I notice when these “freelance” drivers cut me off speeding through traffic like maniacs. I used to complain about some cab drivers who were reckless as they “dove” their cars to pickup passengers at the curb.

Abdi told me about his friend who was building a taxi cab empire, owning several Medallions that were only a few years ago valued at $700,000 to $1.3 million depending on which city you were in.

Today, they are worthless and thousands of immigrants who came to America with a dream to earn a living for their families are now struggling in debt wondering why they have to suffer through so much regulation while the pizza driver during his off-hours can use his car to take passengers without anyone really caring.

Without tight background scrutiny, no clear identification, and no dispatch system to monitor these drivers other than a cell phone app, you are taking your life in your own hands.

I stood at that sidewalk outside the airport and looked to my left where a hundred people waited to slip into their Uber and Lyft rides, and to my right where cab drivers sat hopelessly wondering whether they would even make their costs.

The choice for me was simple.

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Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania is an award-winning columnist, author & former Chicago City Hall reporter (1977-1992). A veteran who served during the Vietnam War and the recipient of four SPJ Peter Lisagor Awards for column writing, Hanania writes weekly opinion columns on mainstream American & Chicagoland topics for the Southwest News-Herald, Des Plaines Valley News, the Regional News, The Reporter Newspapers, and Suburban Chicagoland.  

Hanania also writes about Middle East issues for the Arab News, and The Arab Daily News criticizing government policies in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A critic of mainstream news media bias, Hanania advocates for peace & justice for Israel & Palestine, & the empowerment of Arabs in America. 

Click here to listen to Ray's Political Podcast. 

Hanania's columns are archived on his personal website at RayHanania.com. Hanania was named "Best Ethnic American Columnist" by the New America Media in November 2007, and is the 2009 recipient of the SPJ National Sigma Delta Chi Award for column writing.

Email Ray Hanania at rghanania@gmail.com.
Ray Hanania

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