Taxis are uber-cool


Portugal is debating a law that will curtail the presence of Uber (et al.) in the country, effectively imposing some stricter rules than those in place today. Some of the new measures include the need for drivers to follow a 30h course, have mandatory insurance and carry a tag visible from the outside. Regular taxis will be the only ones allowed to stop if someone hails, use the public taxi squares and ride the bus lanes.

Much has been said in defense of Uber and against taxi drivers. I live in Lisbon and must have hailed / called for 50+ taxis during my sejour. 95% percent of the times I had a friendly / anecdotal chat with the driver, was delivered in via the shortest / fastest route and paid a really low price for the service (taxis in the Portuguese capital are remarkably cheap).

I had a good american friend visiting for a conference, and in her last day she summoned a Uber. The driver couldn’t drive to the airport, something a regular taxi driver would have done with both eyes closed (don’t try this at home). My friend ended up GPSing him to the destination, and managed to embark for her flight on time.

A lot of the fuss around Uber stems from the Shiny Object Syndrome (SOS) that american startups exude. These companies are washed with millions of dollars in investment and use that money to quickly expand and conquer, more often than not using highly questionable tactics in their growth strategy.

I wonder how the financial reality of a Uber driver is at the end of the month, when they spend the day in a car hopping from 3€ gig to 3€ gig, without any social security or guaranteed income to speak of. Erosion of rights and race-to-the-bottom tend to benefit the powerful classes, even when they are disguised as self-starting and freedom to operate.

I fear for the safety of these drivers once they start carrying a tag outside their vehicles, as they can become easy prays for angry taxi drivers or union representatives. Portugal is a country of “Brandos Costumes”, famously non-violent, but hey, 0.1% is enough to cause havoc. Here’s to hoping.

(A follow up discussion on this topic took place on Twitter. You’re welcome to add your own voice.)

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