If you don’t have a car and have needed to use public transit to get around Kitchener-Waterloo (KW), you will know it’s a long process, depending on where you need to get to, and after a couple transfers you might still end up with a 30 minute walk to your destination.
Up until recently your only real option for a late night ride was to stumble through our awkward public transit system or call a taxi and have them come and pick you up. Now, however, with new ride sharing apps like Uber, people have more options.
Uber is breeding competition in KW because they are charging a much lower fare on rides made possible by not having to charge additional fees to cover the taxes that traditional taxis are forced to pay annually. For taxi companies, the taxes are used to make sure all the taxis are safe, to make sure the drivers don’t have any criminal history, and to make sure that they are literate in English. The discrepancy between fares is what taxi drivers find unfair: why do they need to pay for all this when Uber drivers do the same thing and all they have to do is sign up for the app?
The taxi competition in this region used to be all about customer service between Waterloo Taxi, City Cabs, and United Taxi because they were charging basically the same rate for fares. Now, however, Uber has changed up the game and is able to charge less, making them the go-to service.
Now this all sounds fine and dandy, until you start thinking about the service Uber is really providing. Anyone can be an Uber driver. Unlike taxi drivers, they don’t need a police check. The only things you know about an Uber driver when getting into his or her car come from the couple of reviews others have left for the driver on the app. This can be very dangerous, especially if you are trying to get home alone late at night. With a taxi service, on the other hand, you know your driver will have a clean background check, and you can comfortably get into a car with him or her.
I asked a local Uber driver, Robin Brooks, what he thought about a stranger hopping into an Uber car and why passengers should trust Uber drivers. He said, “I don’t really see much of a difference between hopping in an Uber or a taxi. Either way you are trusting that stranger to get you where you need to go and hoping that they won’t take advantage of you. Uber also allows users to rate each driver, so if a driver has a low rating than it would probably be advisable to not drive with them. Traditional taxi’s don’t have this feature and could actually end up being less trustworthy as a result.”
It is interesting to hear his side, because it is contrasts with my original view: I had not considered that the app’s rating system could be protecting passengers more than an annual back ground check. Brooks did go on to say that he is a bit more of a trusting person naturally, so putting his faith in strangers might be a little easier for him than most.
Another potential concern to Uber passengers is that Uber drivers also lack the insurance and car checks that taxi drivers have to go through. It is a little worrisome that you don’t know what condition the car you are getting into is in. Uber does claim to offer insurance in addition to a driver’s existing insurance if the driver gets into an accident while driving a customer, but some drivers have had a hard time claiming this when they filed for it. It may not sound like a big deal, but it’s another safety check that Uber drivers do not have.
I asked Robin if he had made any changes to his insurance and he said no, but he is not driving for Uber much because he is a substitute teacher who is only doing it to subsidize his income.
Currently in KW, Uber has been ruling the streets, charging a base fare of $3 and $1.10 for every kilometer. When you compare that to City Cabs who charges a base fare of $3.50 and an extra $2.10 for every kilometer. With taxis being almost double the price of Uber’s rides, the decision is pretty easily made for students who are on a tight budget.
If Uber continues to grow in popularity in the region, the taxi services may be forced out. You may be paying less for rides, but you have now given up all the assurance of security and safety you had with taxi services. In addition, due to the fact that Uber drivers work whenever they want and are not scheduled for certain hours, there is no guarantee that an Uber driver will be available when you need one.
Uber has so far made a big name for itself not only in KW but in 67 countries all over the world. It has some great benefits, like being able to keep costs low and being a convenient app, which adds up to a seemingly great user experience, but you are giving up a lot of the safety and reliability you get from a taxi service and relying on the reviews of other customers.
As there is currently a large dispute between taxi services and Uber drivers in KW, the region is going to need to make a decision quickly to find a way to balance the services the two parties provide, but in the end it might be the costumers who decide the outcome.