In an appropriate followup to yesterday's post on the evils of mobile apps, we thought it would be appropriate to take a closer look at a relatively new technology based completely around mobile apps: ridesharing.
Ridesharing is all the rage these days. People are increasingly ditching taxis for Ubers, Lyfts, and many other ridesharing services. The idea itself is a new take on a somewhat old idea. Indeed, people have been ridesharing since there were automobiles, though not necessarily with strangers. Certainly, modern technology has allowed this to escalate to a whole new level.
There's nothing wrong with taking measures to save the environment, to be sure. At least, there's nothing wrong with trying to save the environment and thinking you are, for that, in essence, is really what ridesharing boils down to. While environmentally friendly in some ways, it's an environmental catastrophe in many others, and ridesharing itself is a fundamentally flawed technology. In contrast, taxicabs are still an effective means of "public" private transportation. Here's why:
- Requires Mobile Technology — Ridesharing relies on technology that makes it fundamentally inaccessible to people. Not everyone has a mobile device, and the people who don't have one in 2019 don't have one not because they can't afford it but because they don't want one. In contrast, you don't need a mobile device to use a taxicab. Yes, you can iconically hail a taxicab by just throwing out your arm — if you're in the right place — but you can always call by telephone to schedule a taxi ride. You can call from home, work, or from a public phone. Acquiring a taxi is easy and accessible — acquiring a rideshare is not.
- Inconvenient — A complement to the point above; people typically think ridesharing is "more convenient" than hailing a cab, but that's subjective. For some people, this may be the case, but for others, hailing a cab by throwing out your arm or telephoning for a cab is far simpler than using a mobile app.
- Restrictive Payment Methods — Taxis give you more freedom in how you pay your fare. You can always pay by cash, which is usually a cab driver's preferred payment method, but you can generally also pay by credit card as well. However, with ridesharing, you typically can't do either of these directly. Instead, your payment details are stored with the rideshare provider. Want to pay by cash? Too bad, you can't. Not only is this more insecure, since your payment details are stored with a third-party provider, but you have no flexibility in how you pay. For those conscious about their credit score, this could be problematic, since you don't have the option to stop paying by credit card and start paying by cash. Which leads us to our next point
- Lack of Anonymity — You have no privacy when participating in a rideshare. If you hail a cab on the street and pay your fare by cash, you leave the cab without giving the driver even the faintest clue who you were. Apart from potential security footage inside the cab, which has to be manually reviewed, nobody knows you were there. In contrast, ridesharing forces you to open up a bit more. You typically know the driver's name in advance, and he typically knows yours — it's almost required in order to coordinate. Talk about mandatory creepiness. But that's not all. The driver knowing your name is probably harmless, but since all your activity is coordinated through a central app, the ridesharing company has a complete history of all your ridesharing activity. Say goodbye to any notion of privacy when using a rideshare.
- Inaccessible to the Disabled — Because of its reliance on carcinogenic technology, ridesharing is fundamentally inaccessible to those with environmental disabilities, such as microwave sickness or electromagnetic hypersensitivity. Not only can such individuals not use a personal mobile device, but the increased radiation levels inside the car from the driver's mobile device's signal bouncing around will create a living hell inside the vehicle for the duration of the ride. While those who are especially sensitive feel and know this well, note that you are not an exception. Your body's biology is equally tormented during the ride — you just may be ignorant of it. Either way, it's quite stupid to rely on fundamentally harmful technology.
- Environmental Footprint — The footprint of taxis is more obvious. They can idle a lot, just driving around to pick up rides. The footprint of ridesharing, however, is not as obvious. But don't fear; it's there! Because mobile devices on behalf of both parties are necessitated by ridesharing, the coordination itself involves expending a huge amount of energy, for small, wireless devices are notoriously energy inefficient. And that's not to mention the massive cellular infrastructure required to support these devices. While it's not all there for the purpose of ridesharing, it can't be ignored, and if you factor this in, ridesharing may well have a much, much larger footprint than taking a taxi.
- Driver Skill — While some rideshare drivers may, in fact, be ex-cab company, a great majority of them are, in fact, amateurs, often doing the gig part-time. Unlike taxi drivers, who often have decades of experience navigating the streets and know their city like the back of their hand, rideshare drivers are usually less skilled and more clueless. They're at the complete command of their GPS technology, which is woefully inadequate.
- Government Oversight — Ridesharing is not public transportation. It's just not. Taxis are not technically considered public transportation either, but they are overseen by the government, which heavily, heavily regulates the cab industry. Only a limited number of medallions are generally available in any city. In New York City, for example, the number of taxis on the roads at any time is limited by law. Perhaps this runs contrary to the idea of free market commerce (since it's by design imposing an artificial price floor, which is coming back to haunt taxis in the ridesharing era), but it does go to show how much red tape there is around operating a taxi. Not just anybody can operate a cab company.
- Safety — This one is questionable. Some believe genuinely that rideshares are safer than taxis; others disagree. Bad things have happened in both. However, consider that taxi drivers are vetted by the government and rideshare drivers are vetted by private corporations. Considering that American corporations have a long and well-known history of cutting corners and putting the customer last, ridesharing starts to feel very sketchy indeed.
The main thing rideshares have going for them these days seems to be price. Rideshares are almost universally cheaper than taking a taxi, in most major U.S. cities. For the passenger, this may be a win — it depends on what your priorities are. But also keep in mind that the rideshare provider takes a cut of the profits, and at the end of the day, the driver has likely far less take home pay than a cab driver. Understandably, though, you may value getting a cheap ride more than supporting well-paid jobs.
What is clear is that, no matter how evil the technology is, ridesharing is a horse that has bolted and it's too late to shut the barn doors now. The effect on taxicabs has been undeniable. While ridesharing use is up 3400% in just four years, taxicab rides are down by 26% in just under a decade. The trend will, without correction, likely continue. So, in the ridesharing era, what is the future of taxis?
One thing that is apparent is that the role of taxis is changing. Previously a form of "public" private transportation for everyone, taking a taxi is increasingly becoming a status symbol. As more and more people switch to ridesharing, the people left taking taxis are likely to fall into three groups: wealthier individuals who support the establishment, disabled individuals, and environmentally and liberty-conscious individuals who value their individual freedoms and personal rights. These three groups of people are fairly diverse, and they come from all calls of life, professions, and income ranges. Perhaps the future of the taxicab in America is not so bleak after all.
Here's another inconvenient truth — ridesharing, which has certainly been disruptive, is a fundamentally selfish technology. Short of vehicle-to-vehicle communications, it necessitates mandatory violations of other people's rights, as rideshares pollute the vicinity wherever they go and further work to marginalize disabled and other marginalized groups. Ridesharing is not just a personal decision, as it has societal implications that will continue to loom large. It may be a poor choice individually, but the biggest detriment is to society at large. It's not that rideshare drivers are bad people — it's that bad situations lead to bad results. Ridesharing itself is a bad situation with no fix. Fundamentally, the system is flawed. It's a grossly inaccessible and ignorant way to travel.
Going forward, taking a taxi is the clear choice for any self-respecting individual. The same people likely to be ridesharing are the same people who are likely to have given up their landlines — people who play with risks, with little foresight of the future, and little thought of the consequences. Just because it's cheaper than taking a taxi doesn't make it a better option. Help be part of the positive change in the world in the little things that you do. Abandon ridesharing, and stick to tried, true, and established methods of street transportation; this might mean taking a taxi.