After a typical honeymoon period of unquestioning and often oblivious tech culture praise, Uber and its taxi app brethren are getting some real, overdue scrutiny. Thank cabbies in part, for highlighting the fact that much of Uber's business model success has to do with bypassing basic taxi regulations, safety checks, and continuous commercial insurance coverage, in a monoplistic bid for all sides of the taxi market. Protests and lawsuits and injunctions now follow close behind these companies into nearly every new city they zoom into, with the requisite lawyers and lobbyists in the backseat.
At the same time, anyone who's experienced a city knows that licensed taxi companies are due for an upgrade, and maybe some of these apps' success has to do with the old industry's disinterest in adaptation. Shutting out the Uber model—and its rather edgier "rideshare" kin, like Lyft and SideCar and UberX—from the ride-for-hire ecosystem is as poor an answer as allowing it to persist without the institution of new checks and rules.
In the short documentary "Taxi 2.0," filmmaker Max Maddox attacks the issue from street-level in San Francisco by talking to taxi and Uber and Lyft drivers and the people that use each. No one comes away looking great. Everyone's trying to figure out what it all means. (Where, exactly, is the sharing in this sharing economy? And how are these taxis called "rideshares" when there's no real ride-sharing going on?) Apart from concerns about unfair competition, says Maddox, "taxi proponents say these rideshares are unsafe for the public. In the midst of this drama, drivers on both sides of the playing field struggle just to put bread on the table."
Here we see the specter not only of a new labor war in the taxi industry, between established hacks and amateur upstarts armed with GPS maps, but a of a stratified ride-for-hire future, in which taxis are left carrying the unconnected lower classes, while Uber and the like carry the relative big money. Technology has a way of dividing us like that.
I usually feel half-guilty when I get in a TNC, but the cab system is far from perfect at the same time.
Maddox, a broadcasting student at San Francisco State University whose interest was piqued after seeing "so many mustached cars drive by," came away from the months-long project with mixed feelings about the future of cabs.
"After interviewing all these guys, I'm still on the fence about transportation network companies, or rideshares, whatever you want to call them," Maddox says. "I usually feel half-guilty when I get in a TNC, but the cab system is far from perfect at the same time. I can't endorse one platform over the other. I just hope something changes so they can coexist."