It's 2011 and I stand at the foot of my apartment waiting for a yellow cab I'd phoned in to take me to the airport. After 45 minutes and two more calls into dispatch, fearing a missed flight, I drive myself to the airport and pay $412 to park for 10 days. A few weeks later, I slide into the backseat of another cab, and after hearing my destination the cabbie informs me he will not take me there because he wants to stay downtown. A bit bewildered, I hesitate to get out and soon he is swatting at me with a newspaper and screaming at me to get out of his "F-ing cab." Later that month, another cabbie locks me into the back of his car -- holding me hostage for 5 minutes -- and tells me he won't let me out of the car until I produce double my fare in cash because, "I had wasted his time for trying to pay with a credit card."
To my knowledge, experiences like these were common amongst taxi users in cities across America. As commuters, we often had no better option to get where we needed to go, so we sucked it up and dealt with the drudgery that was getting a taxi, riding in a taxi and paying for our taxis. At least that was the case until Uber came along, an answer to millions of American pleas for a ride service that didn't completely suck.
Uber does not suck. In fact, I would go as far as saying that if God chose not to rest on the 7th day, but instead wanted to throw some global transportation into the creation mix, he would have created a company like Uber. Uber makes every part of the taxi process wonderful, eliminating everything frustrating or awkward about riding in taxis. Crazy arm flailing on the corner, racing other potential riders to the cab door, and calls into dispatch are replaced by a magic app, where with a few gentle presses of your thumb on a screen you can select a cab and then watch the cars progress on your phone as it drives to you. They take the awkwardness out of the payment exchange by estimating your fare, including the tip, auto-deducting the payment from your credit card on file, and emailing you a receipt with a map of your route. If your driver is unsafe, refuses a fare, or is a racist there is a direct channel to report your concerns, which immediately presents itself upon the completion of your ride.
I took much joy thinking I would never have to resort to using a company like Yellow Cab again. Stories about hailing cabs would go the way of 'walking up hill to school both ways'. "Whippersnapper, when I was young, I had to wave my arms like a windmill to get a cab and the drivers were always mean!" But unfortunately, Uber has found itself the target of a lawsuit that if successful, could put many happy Uber passengers back into taxis. Most surprisingly, this lawsuit isn't being originated by miffed taxi drivers - some of whom have made the poor decision to invest upwards of a million dollars and twenty years of their lives for their operating medallions (for unfortunate-life-decision-commiseration support groups, talk to Millenials who went to private university, or homebuyers who purchased in 2007) - but rather, it's coming from three of their own drivers and is picking up steam as thousands of other misguided Uber drivers are giving their support. If the drivers are successful, the outcome will seriously change Uber's business model; which one could interpret as: 'If these entitled drivers get their way, soon we will all be back in taxicab hell.'
What is so baffling to me is how quickly entitlement has seeped into driver's attitudes. When Uber was first launched, drivers would regale me with stories of how Uber was changing their lives. They could quit that second job they hated and instead drive for an hour a night to make ends meet; they could pay off their cars, their homes, or save for their children's college; they could afford to take time to visit their parents or friends across the country because Uber would let them drive in multiple locations. But now, only a few years later, it seems like more and more drivers take Uber for granted. What once was considered an opportunity akin to an occupational miracle for many, has devolved into just another job where "my 'employer' doesn't care about me", "there are no benefits", and "they don't pay me enough." The culmination of this attitude shift is evidenced by the willingness of drivers to back this treasonous lawsuit.
Uber didn't found their company with the intention of employing millions of cab drivers. They started their company with the idea of connecting people with cars who wanted to drive to people who needed a ride and would be willing to pay for a ride. They've done such a good job as a peer to peer connecting service, that they've completely transformed the marketplace and are on the way to creating a worldwide transportation utopia. If you choose to drive for Uber, they owe you nothing more than your commission and perhaps a polite "You're welcome." If you don't agree with the way Uber compensates drivers, then don't tap into their network to arrange for the pickup of passengers. If you'd prefer the lifestyle of a more traditional job - one with steady hours, a book of benefits, and paid expenses - then go get one. I have heard taxi companies are hiring.
I feel like I can't stress this enough: This lawsuit could ruin everything that both Uber passengers and Uber drivers are currently benefiting from. If you're an Uber driver considering backing this, I implore you to reconsider. The proposed lawsuit will undermine the feasibility of Uber's business model and thus will return power back to taxicab companies. It will be your fault when passengers are forced back into traditional taxis because of imposed 'fair play' regulations and the passed on increase in fares from higher operating costs. As Uber adjusts to their role as employer they will not be able to employ many of you, and you'll involuntarily have to return to the jobs you despised. You will find yourself pining for the good old days, and you'll watch guiltily as humanity backpedals into the taxicab dark ages.
There may come a time where Uber goes too far and you will need to band together to stick it to the man, but this is not that time. Please, stop crowding our courts and get back to work... or don't. You drive for Uber, remember? You can work whenever you want. It's a pretty nice gig.
*author has no affiliation with any of the above mentioned companies.