I really like Uber, but there are two distinct ways to look at it along the “Are they potentially racist or not?” spectrum. Here’s a simple breakdown. Feel free to offer thoughts in comments.
Maybe they are: In most (not all) communities, taxi drivers — as in licensed taxi drivers — tend to be immigrants. They probably don’t have a ton of money (again, generally speaking) and are likely minorities. Meanwhile, the “leisure economy” — which is in essence what ride-sharing is — is often done by non-minority college students or people between jobs or grad students or what have you. In this way, are non-minorities essentially taking money away from minorities by eating up their cab routes? (Also, please factor in the cost of a licensed medallion to this discussion; it can be expensive.) This led to protests in Seattle, accusations that CEO Travis Kalanick is “a sociopath,” and now you’re starting to see even more push-back on ride-sharing out of airports around the country. Then, consider this situation in Nashville:
The cab is … a cab, with the wear and tear of years of full-time, professional driving. Jemal is pleasant, an Ethiopian immigrant who moved to Nashville 13 years ago and has been driving taxis for about seven of those.
He worries about Lyft and Uber, he says, because he pays hundreds a month on insurance alone for his cab, plus other fees to Yellow for the privilege of driving it. “If I make $100, I put $5 in my pocket,” he says.
Final thing here: to get an Uber, you essentially need a smartphone and a credit card. Those are less common among minorities, generally-speaking.
Maybe they aren’t: Read this first about the process of trying to get a cab as an African-American, and how easy and no-frills (albeit a bit more costly) Uber has made that process. The same conceptual argument is made here, and then … regarding the “Seattle immigrant driver community vs. Uber” notions above, that debate is a bit more nuanced. It appears a lot of immigrant drivers within Seattle are, in fact, switching sides:
Bahru came to the United States in 2005 from Ethiopia. During his first three months in Seattle, he spent every day at the library teaching himself English. From there he was able to get a job as a janitor. In 2007 he began working as a taxi driver for Yellow Cab.
“I think I made more money driving a cab, but there’s a lot of things I count — like driving my own car [and] making my own schedule — as worth money,” he said.
Also worth noting that Seattle’s Uber GM (the city head, essentially) has noted in different interviews that a good portion of Uber drivers in the Emerald City are, in fact, immigrants — as opposed to the potential view that it’s all middle-class white kids looking for walking-around money.
Uber’s mission statement involves “evolving the way the world moves” and “making cities more accessible.” By definition (sheerly and on face), that’s the antithesis of racism.
What do you think? Racist? Not? Not an issue? Varies by city? Or is the thing we should really be discussing the licensure?