Why El Paso Needs Uber, And Taxis Should Get With The Times
Yesterday City Council voted to deregulate taxis so they can better compete with Uber. Taxis aren't happy. But people haven't been happy with taxis for awhile.
City council voted yesterday to deregulate the taxi industry in El Paso to help companies compete with Uber. Taxi companies operating in El Paso could now pay less or not need to pay many city fees, inspections or permits that are currently required. Taxi company owners wanted the City to require fingerprint based background checks that other Texas cities like Austin have implemented. Even though so many tech companies are moving their business to the city, Austin is now the only major U.S. city that doesn't have a ride-sharing service.
Some people believe this is great. It will help taxi businesses in the city flourish, "level the playing field," and "public safety." But in reality, all your doing is bringing back problems from years ago and stopping local residents from earning income. Since Uber and Lyft left Austin last week, some bars in the city have reported 20% loss of income this weekend alone. Thousand of Austinites are now out of a job that worked on their schedule and was flexible. Uber also gives incentives to their drivers to work during peak hours, for instance when bars are closing, and there is a large demand for rides.
If taxis want to level the playing field with Uber, sad to say they're going to have to be the ones to do it. Uber gives their patrons great perks for the using the service. Drivers are reviewed and depending on how good the ride was, the better their score. Some drivers have water bottles, mints and other things in the car that riders can enjoy. It sounds silly but sometimes after a long night out, that water bottle is the best thing.
Not to mention the fact that Uber is willing to take you, no matter the distance. I live close to the bars I frequent, but walking in my heels on a night out isn't the best plan. Uber has a minimum amount that they charge and no matter the distance, they'll take you. This past weekend in Austin, a taxi driver was caught on camera forcibly removing a passenger from his vehicle allegedly because it was only a few blocks. The driver claimed he had another fare to pick up but there was none listed, according to the taxi company. The driver was fired by the company, and they did tell KXAN news that passengers were encouraged to report incidents like that to the company so they can be dealt with.
Lucky for El Paosans, our city isn't as big as Austin but the taxi to population ratio is still not where it should be. In the past when I've used taxis, I would spend a significant amount of time waiting for the car. Back in February, KVIA tested Uber and a taxi company to see which was faster and cheaper. The Uber was 15 minutes faster than the taxi and cost less ($30 taxi, $15.50 Uber). Now that is only a single instance and others could be different. One time I took an Uber and the driver was so slow, it took her awhile to get me a short distance, not to mention she got lost.
Another issue that was brought up was having people with diabilities use Uber. If we were able to embrace the company more, we could bring into the city Uber XL and Uber Access. Uber XL allows you to order larger vehicles, which could hold wheelchairs and has the space for it. Uber Access works with third party companies and vehicles so they can pick up motorized wheelchairs with ease.
City Council Representative Peter Svarbein and I don't see eye to eye on many issues (biggest being the new streetcars) but I couldn't help cheering when he brought up the issue of drunk driving in El Paso. "No one here can look me in the eye and say we don't have a drunk driving problem." And you know he's right. Last year, a report came out showing that 16% of El Paso adults were binge drinkers. According to TXDOT, in 2014 there were:
- 21 Fatal Car Crashs
- 26 Fatalities
- 136 Possible Injury Crashes
- 406 Non-Injury Crashes
- 21 DWI Arrests Over New Year's Weekend Alone
The fact of the matter is that Uber has done a lot to make El Paso streets safer. It's convenient, easy to use, cheaper and lets consumers and drivers control the way they use the technology. Not to mention, I love those late night trips to Whataburger with my Uber drivers. They get me.