I recently signed a petition to preserve Uber in Worcester. This is the letter that I attached to it.
Since Uber has become available in Worcester, my friends and I routinely use the service for nights out when we know that we’ll be having a couple of drinks. While cabs have provided this service in the past, there is a growing chasm between the kind of service that people expect and the lack of service that Worcester’s primary cab companies, Red & Yellow Cabs, provide. On busy Friday and Saturday nights, the cab companies occasionally do not pick up the phone or promised cabs simply don’t show up. Admittedly, this has only happened maybe a half-dozen to 12 times in the 10-years that I’ve been taking cabs when going out, but the result is that you simply can’t trust the cab companies to reliably pick you up, and that causes you to pause when going out and think “Are we going to be able to get a ride home from a cab company tonight?”
Uber does not have this issue. In two years, I’ve taken Uber scores of times with friends and because of the technology behind the service, you at least know if a driver is going to take 5, 10, or 15 minutes to pick you up — something that isn’t available at any of Worcester’s cab companies. Beyond that, the cars are nicer, the drivers tend to be more professional, and you are assured an upfront price at the end of your trip with some recourse (the review system) if something does not work out (which, by the way, every ride from an Uber driver has been perfect, a far cry from the cab experience in Worcester).
Further, Worcester has a non-existent public transportation system that only serves working people during the workweek. The WRTA bus doesn’t run on the weekends (and even if it did, the routes are circuitous and serve a fraction of neighborhoods in the city), so if you had any hope of taking the bus on a night out, that chance is lost. For this reason, Uber serves as a reliably method of nearly-public transportation, something that simply isn’t available in the city.
Uber (and others like Lyft) have also introduced the conversation of improving our cab systems in cities like Worcester, something that had never been a topic of conversation before Uber appeared. Now, you have cab companies saying that they’re going to introduce mobile apps and streamline their payment systems. Prior to Uber being in Worcester, only a fraction of cabs even took cred cards in the city and why would they? There was no motivation to change because they held a complete monopoly on paid drivers.
Finally, is the opportunity for drivers. Every Uber driver I’ve ever hired has liked the work — they’re friendly and courteous, professional and take their work seriously. I can’t imagine a single reason why legislators in Massachusetts would be against independent job growth and citizens being able to supplement their income by providing a service that is sorely needed.
Beyond the reasons to preserve Uber service in cities like my hometown, Worcester, is that the arguments against it are assinine. Cab companies and their advocates have argued that traveling in a cab is safer than Uber because of the cab inspection system. This is ludicrous. There is not a single chance that a 2001 Chevy Impala or 2000 Ford Taurus, the typical cabs that pick you up in Worcester, are more reliable or safer cars than my last Uber ride which was in a 2013 Acura TL. Cab companies have been quick to point out the absurdly few examples of abuse by Uber drivers around the world, focusing typically on service in countries like India (which few seem to recollect that these countries have torrid records of abuse within public transportation systems, lest we remember the Dehli bus gang rape in 2012), and have held those small examples up as reasons for why Uber is not safe. This, again, is absurd. Now, I have had many safe, professional rides with cab drivers. However, I — and everybody who routinely rides in cabs — have also had clear examples where drivers were noticeably intoxicated, operating a vehicle when they shouldn’t (for instance, days without sleep), or other noteworthy incidents when the drivers seemingly didn’t have a command of the rules of the road. Admittedly, these circumstances are rare, but I’m more likely to trust the system that has a predictable way for me to self-report driver abuse — which Uber has — versus the system where your feedback would probably go unanswered, unheard, and forgotten.
Despite these myriad reasons, I think the most important one is the service that Uber provides in a city like Worcester which has a clearly deteriorated cab service and a non-existent weekend bus service. Uber is providing the public service that the city is unwilling to provide, and it does so in a professional, reliable, convenient, and above all affordable way.