Wednesday 26 November 2014

Uber taxis: Are they good or are they bad?            

Here is how you get a Uber taxi to come to you. You download the Uber app on your iPhone and you use it to signal your need for a ride. Within a few minutes, a car will supposedly show up to take you to your destination. Since your credit card is already configured to the mobile app that you used to call for the ride, your payment and tip will be charged automatically. Now this is a good idea if the taxi arrives within minutes.

You can use the map and your phone’s GPS to tell Uber your current location so they can have one of its taxis pick you up. If you’re using their mobile website, you can type in the address or you can text the address to UBR-CAB (827-222) if you’re using Uber in Canada or the United States. Uber will send you a text notifying you of how long you’ll need to wait before you can expect to be picked up. When your Uber ride arrives, you’ll receive another text to let you know that it has arrived. There is a $10.00 fee if you cancel.

This method of trying to get a taxi, especially when you are on a street, is certainly a great way to get one to come to you. It beats having to step off the curb trying to wave one down. Further, your credit card will automatically be charged for the trip with the tip already included.  For every ride the base fee is $8.00. After that Uber charges just under 5 dollars per mile. The minimum fare is 15 dollars.  You don’t need to manually hand over some cash or your card to the driver before you leave as it automatically comes off of your card account.  Further, your app will tell you the name of your driver.     

This concept is futuristic, of that there is no doubt but currently there are problems related to this form of taxi service First, Uber firms don’t appear to have any insurance that covers accidents of assaults by the drivers. If your driver has an accident while you are in his or her vehicle and you are seriously hurt, you can make a claim against Uber’s insurance. You can make a claim against the driver’s auto insurance but his policy may be limited as to how much you can claim from his own auto insurance. Second, they have been known to hire former criminals as drivers. , they are not acting under government taxi regulations in the various cities they operate in. Subsequently, you have no official government department where you can file a complaint. Fourth, you can’t reserve a ride ahead of time as the service currently only operates as an on-demand private driver service. This could be a problem if you have to catch a plane at an airport. Fifth, they can’t operate out of an airport. Fifth, there have been complaints about Uber raising their fares (called surge pricing) when the demand for one of those taxis is low.

You need a smartphone to access the Uber app; otherwise you're out of luck. And if you are using your cell phone abroad, make sure that you have a package that allows international use at a reasonable price, or any savings you might get by using a Uber taxi may be wiped out.

With tens of thousands of drivers worldwide, there have been a few incidents reported involving Uber drivers, including accidents and even assaults on passengers.

For drivers who want to be Uber drivers, they must be at least 21 years old, with a personal license and personal auto insurance. No one checks to see if the applicants have a criminal record or are facing a rape charges. Further, they must use their own four-door car that will hold four passengers. If a licensed mechanic not employed by Uber and is a friend of the driver has not thoroughly checked to see if the car has safety problems, it could be risky to ride in it. You just won’t know what the condition is unless of course, you hear strange noises inside the car or the driver’s brakes are slow to act.

In Toronto, Ontario, municipal officials want to stop the app-based taxi service, Uber in its tracks by turning to the courts to try and prevent the Silicon Valley company in San Francisco from operating in the city. City lawyers applied for an injunction with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice on November 18th requesting that it order Uber to cease all operations in Toronto.

I am not sure that they will have complete success in eliminating Uber operations in the city but they could get an injunction against them temporarily until Uber meets the standards of the taxi industry set down by that city’s regulations with respect to its taxis. 

A German regional court has recently issued a temporary injunction against Uber Technologies Inc., the fast-growing, U.S.-based online chauffeur service which is no stranger to legal challenges from taxi-cab rivals and regulators around the globe. In its ruling, the Frankfurt Regional Court said the company could no longer offer its phone apps to connect drivers with passengers, stating that Uber’s network of drivers lacked the necessary commercial licences to pick up passengers.

And San Francisco-based Uber, which allows users to summon taxi-like services on their smartphones, has faced regulatory scrutiny and court injunctions from its early days, even as it has expanded rapidly into roughly 150 cities around the world.

Founded in 2009 and valued at $18.2-billion (U.S.) after its latest round of funding in June, Uber Technologies contends that it is an electronic marketplace that connects drivers with customers, not a transportation service itself. Quite frankly, I find that hard to believe that it isn’t a transportation service. Regular taxi companies rely on telephones and radios which are electronic devices that connects its drivers to their customers.

Even in its home city of San Francisco, Uber has had to overcome legal and regulatory hurdles from city authorities concerned with its services that sidestep rules governing commercial transport and by taxi companies hoping to keep competition out.

I am not concerned that taxi companies that are already regulated want Uber cars off the road since the sole motive of those firms already regulated is that they don’t want more competition. That isn’t a good reason at all for getting Uber cars off the road.  For example, taxi drivers across Europe caused chaos in June of this year by protesting against the service but Uber services have continued to grow in popularity. Obviously, the public is satisfied with the service offered to them by Uber.                                                                         

Toronto mayor-elect, John Tory says municipalities need to get with the times. I totally agree with him. There can never be too many taxis in a city as large as Toronto. Here is what I would like to see in the near future.        

1.       All taxi firms (including Uber) be licenced by the municipalities and abide by the regulations set down by the municipalities with respect to its standards such as insurance, safety with respect to the conditions of the cars and the qualifications of its drivers.  

2.       All taxi firms be connected to the Internet and cellphone apps and be able to receive app requests from customers.

3.       The locations of all taxis in the city show up on the Internet and on apps in cellphones so that if a customer sees a blip of a taxi near them that shows up as a green blip (means it is available) they can put their finger on that blip and that taxi’s computer will show the approximate time it will take to arrive at the customer’s location. When they put their finger on that blip again, it will in effect tell the driver that the customer wants that taxi to pick that customer up. The taxi driver will know the address or location by the GPS in the customer’s cellphone.

4.       All taxi firms will charge the same fare for the initial pickup cost and the distance traveled. Since all the taxi firms will always have their taxis on the road, the competition will be fair as it will be based on chance.

5.       If a customer wishes to arrange for a pickup at a specific time, he or she can call the main office of any taxi firm for that service.

I believe that my dream will become a reality. When I was eleven, (1944) I forecasted in a school essay that planes that would leave the tarmac by going straight up. They exist now. When I was seventeen, (1951) I forecasted in a school essay that we will pay for items and services by using a card connected to our bank. That is common place nowadays.  In both of those essays, I got a big F with notations, “stupid idea” and “nonsense” but then what can I say about teachers that can only see the future as far as a week or so. 

UPDATE:  In December 2014, A man in New Delhi, India was driving a Uber taxi and after the young woman he picked up had fallen asleep in the back of the taxi, the driver drove her to a secluded location and sexually molested her. He was later arrested and charged. The government is taking legal action against Uber for not conducting an adequate investigation into the background of the driver. It turns out that he had been charged twice in the past for committing sexual assaults on women in 2011 and 2013 and was out on bail when he committed the third recent assault.  Further,  Uber is charged with having  the wrong address listed for the driver and having a GPS in the taxi that wasn't working.  

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