In (surprising) defense of taxis

I’m writing this the night before I take off on a short trip, my first of the new year.

The flight leaves at 7AM. I have Pre-Check (because of NEXUS) so I don’t need to get there all that much in advance. But that still means leaving no later than 5:30AM.

And to get there, I will be taking a taxi. A real taxi.

This feels almost quaint, if not actually subversive.

No love for taxis

Does anyone else out there dislike taxis? It can’t be just me.

I’ve had no love for taxis for as long as I can remember. Part of this has stemmed, I think, from a more populist viewpoint, or perhaps even a classist one. Taxis always felt egregious, spending lots of money to be personally chauffeured to your destination. It felt self-important and wasteful, in that it was an extra car trip when, in most cases, there was a public transit option right alongside the taxi option.

“What, are you too good to ride the bus with the rest of us?”

Some love for taxis

But as I’ve gotten older and moved up in the tax brackets, my low-level outrage has softened a bit.

I now understand the time-versus-money equation a bit more, and a taxi ride no longer seems like an exorbitant cost to me, especially when it’s 5AM and you could either take an hour-long bus ride or a 20 minute cab ride.

As one grows wealthier, expenses change in their “feeling” of magnitude. When you make five times as much, for example, an expense “feels” one fifth as expensive.

I still have never quite warmed to taxis though. I still generally see them as a kind of mobility “last resort”, one that I often equate to a kind of failure, though whether it’s my failure (to find a better way) or the place’s failure (to have a viable alternate) is up for debate.

And yet, these days, I find myself defending taxi companies, if not taxis themselves.

And the reason is companies like Uber.

More love for taxis needed

I don’t need to tell you what Uber is, but in case you’ve just joined us from another planet, Uber is a car-sharing service (excuse me, “online transportation network company”) that allows riders to be connected with drivers. It’s basically a DIY taxi service, all stage-managed via an app.

I’ll go into what I find troubling with Uber in another post, but suffice to say, it definitely feels like the greater of two evils when compared to a taxi company.

READ MORE:  Why there is almost nothing redeeming about Uber

(There are other similar services, like Lyft, but it’s simpler to talk about one company, especially as it’s the most dominant one.)

No one I know takes taxis anymore. Everyone just “takes an Uber”.

The reasons seem less than compelling. Granted, Uber has an easy-to-use app, which taxi companies didn’t have until recently. (These days, as far as I can tell, taxi companies have either built their own apps, or are pairing up with third party apps like Curb).

But there also seems to be this odd anti-establishment, techno-utopian reason for using Uber. It feels new and shiny, exciting in a way that taxis aren’t. And it seems that people are quick to see the taxi companies as an instantiation of “The Man“, a monopoly that drives up prices and provides sub-par service.

And to be fair, I have had some serious sub-par service in a cab. I once had a guy try to charge me more than the flat-rate he was obligated to charge, and he was prepared to hold my bags hostage until I paid up.

The stalemate ended when I called the customer service line for the taxi company, the number helpfully placed at eye level from my vantage point.

But I shudder to think what I would have done if I had been in an Uber vehicle. Posted on their help forum?

Taxis uber Uber

When faced with the option of a professional driver versus (let’s face it) a rando, I choose the former. When faced with the option of working with a company that stands behind its service, versus a company that doesn’t even think of its drivers as employees, I’ll take the former.

And while Uber used to be the disruptor, they feel like the establishment now. And because of this, for balance sake, I feel like we need to support taxi companies now, lest they go out of business because of ride sharing’s ubiquity. When the only option we have is Uber (or Lyft or whatever), we’re back in the same position of monopoly as we were before.

But this time, with surge pricing.

I may not love taxis, but I appreciate that they exist. Let’s hope they continue to do so.

But enough about me. Do you use taxis?

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