Uber: An antidote to taxi corruption

Taxi service in the Boston metro area is pretty bad. Cabs are still booked by phone. The dispatcher lacks caller ID so the street address and name have to be dictated. Cabs often show up late or to the wrong street. In speaking with cabbies over the years I’ve learned that one of the problems is that dispatchers play favorites, in particular by awarding jobs to those drivers who pay them bribes. One of the results of that is poor service for customers who are not always sent the most convenient cabs. I’m not the expert on corruption in the cab business but you can read more about it in the Boston Globe if you don’t believe me.

So I’m grateful for the Uber service, which provides a more convenient, less expensive service that in my experience has also been more reliable and friendlier than the taxi alternative. (If you don’t know, Uber is a smartphone app that allows passengers to request private cars, cabs, SUVs or black cars and to pay automatically.) Interestingly –and not surprisingly to me– I am encountering UberX drivers who are former taxi drivers for the taxi companies in my town. When I ask them what they like about Uber they mention the ability to determine their own hours –but when I push them a little more they open up about the lack of corruption as another reason to participate.

Now, not every one is so sanguine about Uber. (See Why Does Uber Suck Now?) for a different take by one of my neighbors. I agree that Uber staff have been a bit sleazy, at least in New York, and I’m sure that experience with drivers will be variable. But I don’t object at all to surge pricing. As long as it’s disclosed it should bring more cars on the road when there’s demand for them. (You can always take a cab if you don’t like it.)

At least for now, Uber is giving out its venture capitalists’ money to build up the business. If you use my invite code: psx4h to join Uber you’ll get a $20 credit and so will I.

If you’ve read all the way to this point and are wondering about the connection to health care, I’m sorry to say there isn’t one.

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By David E. Williams of the Health Business Group

One thought on “Uber: An antidote to taxi corruption

  1. Barry Tilles

    Hello. Nice blog and thank you for this bit about Uber and the state of the cab industry in Boston. I am a long time (35 years) Boston cab driver and medallion owner/operator (20 years) and so qualified to clear up a few common misconceptions, many of which arose from the Globe Spotlight series of last year and which were evidently not disabused or actively promulgated by tip-seeking cabbies. The Globe reporter interviewed me for the articles and it was clear that he set out to confirm the premise of corruption and either naively or perhaps calculatingly ignored evidence and testimony that contradicted his presuppositions. So a mythical image was inculcated in the cab-tasking and reading public that the Globe sculpted – not the truth but a meme like “war on women” – of economic oppression on a par with sharecropping (the race/immigrant angle was explicit and smarmily between the lines, with absolutely no evidence proffered) , lax oversight and regulation, insufficient insurance, and fatcat medallion owners whose “pockets [are] stuffed with cash”.

    The only “bribery” uncovered was not on the dispatch side (radio room) but in the allocation of cabs to drivers on busy nights (Thursday – Sunday or 4 out of 14 shifts) in one garage, where drivers supposed sometimes gave the starter $5 “tips” to secure a vehicle. First, that garage – the Boston Cab (company not city of) Kilmarnock St location owned by Eddie Tutunjian (the target of the series the reporter made no bones about it) – is well known sort of the “garage of last resort” – highest prices for rental, dirtiest and most broken down vehicles, demeaning lines and no guarantee of work. Why would a driver seek work in such a place? Only if no better alternative is available, that is, if one is a newbie (meaning first few YEARS of driving – cab-driving in Boston is an easy job field to enter but an arduous one to master), drivers who have had minor accidents or wrecks, and, importantly, drivers who can’t or won’t commit to a schedule – Eddie’s garage is the only “walk-in” one remaining in the city to my knowledge.

    Now any favoritism of the kind you referred to, and the type that lousy cabbies like to grouse about, where the dispatcher assigns radio call work to a “friend” mostly ended when voice dispatch went to automated computer/GPS dispatch 4-5 years ago. Even then, if it was more on the basis of competence and reliability, not favoritism or coffee bribes. The drivers who felt aggrieved uniformly had over and over proven themselves undependable, and so lost work to those radio men who followed through and didn’t blow off calls for street flags or accumulate fare complaints for rudeness, ineptitude, dishonesty. In their minds, though, the system was screwing them.

    The most telling thing in the Globe piece was buried at the end of part 3 where it was revealed the the undercover cabbie/Globe reporter wrecked his cab in an accident which turned out (only acknowledged after the Herald reported so) was the reporter’s fault! So, the owner who got $100/night approx. for 8 or 10 shifts was left holding the bag for $25 – 30k replacement vehicle. Who is economically exploited in this case, which is far from untypical, the driver or the owner?

    Sorry to go on like this, I didn’t even have time to address Uber or the invasion of out-of-town (primarily Brookline, but also various and sundry unlicensed cars and liveries) which have proliferated largely unchallenged over the past 2-3 years). If anyone is interested I would be happy to expound further.

    Barry Tilles
    Good Dog Cab Inc (med# 413)

    Reply

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