Sunday 24 March 2019

Sinead Ryan: 'Why Uber-less Ireland is a good thing'

 

Stock image: Reuters
Stock image: Reuters
Sinead Ryan

Sinead Ryan

We're one of the few countries that doesn't have Uber as a transport option. And as difficult as it can be to get a taxi on a Saturday night in the city centre, I think this is a good thing.

The concept makes sense at first: hundreds of people ready to take you where you need to go, quickly and more cheaply than a taxi and an easy way for motorists to earn extra cash without any qualifications.

However, a scary experience a few years ago has put me off.

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I was waiting for a taxi which I had booked, by phone, from a company I used many times, when one pulled up, the driver nodded to me, and I got in.

It was after midnight, I had been at a work gig, so hadn't been drinking, but I was half-way down the quays when I got a phone call from the taxi company asking where I was. Its driver had arrived to collect me.

Possibly only the women reading this may get a full sense of the thudding fear in the pit of my stomach at that moment.

I asked the company operator to stay on the line and turned to the driver (who I was sitting beside in the front seat) where he was from. He shrugged and said it didn't matter, he would take me home.

I realised then, his opportunistic pull-up and my assumption that it was the driver I had booked meant I wasn't even sure if I was in a taxi at all.

I frantically looked for ID which was on the dashboard, but realised the photo on the card didn't match the driver. I memorised the number and name quickly.

Now, really fearful, I wondered whether to demand he stop and let me out, but would that be worse? Stranded on a random road without a taxi; and what if he refused?

The taxi company had hung up by now - frustrated by what they saw as me dropping the fare - but I had the presence of mind to pretend they were still on the line and carried on an imaginary conversation until I got to my door, outlining every step of the journey as if they were asking where I was.

The driver seemed oblivious.

Yes, I did get home and he was simply a chancer - or a part-timer with very little English unable to reassure me, filling in for the real driver. But it was a most unsettling experience.

And that's the regulated market.

Uber and Lyft claim that all 'driver-partners' complete a 'review of photo ID and other relevant documentation' before signing up, but that doesn't sound terribly reassuring.

Because they're contractors, the companies have no liability and the internet abounds with stories of assaults, robbery, rape, even shootings in some countries.

There are also now attorneys specialising in Uber and Lyft 'accident' claims.

But only last week, gardaí here rounded up 180 illegal taxi drivers in Dublin with fraudulent PSV licences as part of a massive immigration scam.

They had no driving qualifications and were using false identities, yet ferrying around unsuspecting passengers, presumably uninsured also.

How that could happen is unclear, but the National Transport Authority certainly has questions to answer.

There have been a number of cases of gangland figures over the years acquiring real licences, which doesn't fill the average passenger with comfort, either.

I wonder whether the time has come to formally bring in one-colour taxis - like London's hackney carriage black taxis or the yellow cabs you get in New York.

It can't be replicated like a fake licence or roof sign and would at least make passengers - including this one - feel safer.

Irish Independent

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