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Thursday, March 5, 2015 |  Madison, WI: -4.0° F  Fair
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Citizen: Ride-sharing services do not represent the future in Madison -- cab companies do
The 'new reality of the sharing economy' is semantics, buzzwords and bullshit.
The 'new reality of the sharing economy' is semantics, buzzwords and bullshit.

Dave Cieslewicz's opinion column in the May 9 issue of Isthmus was short on facts, especially with regard to the taxicab business in the Madison area.

Citizen Dave, I have worked for three of the four local cab companies, and I don't know where you got the idea that they are "unionized." Plain and simple, they are not. It is true that Union Cab of Madison Cooperative (my current employer) was formed subsequent to a labor dispute three decades ago, but aside from having the word "union" as part of its name, there is no union there. Some of the drivers, including myself, would like to form a workers' union within Union Cab, but so far it has not happened.

As for the myth that the ride-sharing services Lyft and Uber represent the future, and Madison's cab companies represent the past, you need to take a closer look, Citizen Dave. As one of the worker-owners of Union Cab, I invite you to come over and see our operation, and take stock of the technology we have, before you dismiss our supposed "rigidity." You will see a team of people in our dispatch office sitting in front of computer screens, monitoring the distribution of cabs throughout the city using GPS, and assigning calls in the most efficient way possible. Come for a ride with me when I'm out in a cab, and you will see a tablet mounted on my dashboard, upon which calls are assigned to me without any need for voice communication with the dispatcher.

And most importantly, try ordering one of our cabs with our "Prepaid" feature. Using your smart phone or your computer, enter your name, credit card number, and pickup and destination addresses. Does this sound familiar? Maybe like the technology of the "future" that Madison cabs supposedly don't have yet?

One of the buzzwords used by the pundits who compare these unlicensed cabs with so-called traditional cab services is "archaic." Citizen Dave, I invite you to come to Union Cab and inspect our operation, and then decide whether it is "archaic." Then consider what could happen if companies like Lyft and Uber are permitted to flood our streets with their vehicles and force out the competition.

After all, they are in business to make money. We could reach a point where people without smart phones and bank-issued credit cards will have problems getting cabs. This would include a lot of people of color who live in neighborhoods such as Allied Drive. People of limited income in Madison are already struggling with the limitations of the Madison Metro bus service (as well as the lack of a centralized depot for intercity bus service). Oftentimes the only option left is taxi service, and if we limit that option, the results for poor people could be catastrophic. If Lyft and Uber drivers are allowed to redline neighborhoods and cherry-pick the times of day they work, efficient cab service could become the prerogative of the privileged classes.

You want "archaic," Citizen Dave? I'll give you "archaic." Racism is archaic. It's as old as the hills.

Citizen Dave, the "new reality of the sharing economy" you speak of is a new reality of semantics, buzzwords and bullshit. The fact is that a couple of free-market, libertarian, unlicensed taxi services, supported by big-money interests in cities far, far away, have moved into our community, bringing with them a Koch-brothers-style media blitz. They have disrespected and broken our laws, and now they are asking us to change our laws to accommodate them. It's unfortunate that you allowed yourself to be fooled by their rhetoric.

Ray L. Rideout is a driver at Union Cab of Madison Cooperative. "Citizen" is an opinion series that presents the views of the author. If you would like to reply, please comment or consider submitting an op-ed in response.

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