Score One for the Sharing Economy? Uber and Lyft vs Taxicab Racism

business_ethics_highlights_2When taxicab operators have a legal oligopoly on point-to-point, ride-for-pay services, racism in the provision of taxi services is often a problem. Taxicab operators (of whatever race) tend to concentrate on affluent white neighborhoods and business districts, and are much more likely to accept hails from white than from black customers. The net effect is that taxi services are both available to and reliable for white people in a way that they aren’t for black people. Although most cities have a regulatory structure prohibiting racism in the provision of taxi services, enforcement is difficult in the best of circumstances and redress is simply too costly to be worth the time and effort for victims of taxi operators’ abuse of discretion.

The linked blog post is interesting because the writer, a black man recently reminded of taxicab racism when he visited no-rideshare Vancouver (B.C.), is generally opposed to the sharing economy and the entrepreneurial values he sees it spreading in our culture. While crediting Uber and Lyft for their effective mechanisms to combat racism in the provision of rideshare services, the writer laments the further encroachment of neoliberal, entrepreneurial values in our lives.

In the classroom, this post could be used to jumpstart a discussion about the values underlying the sharing economy, the power conferred on oligopolists in regulated oligopolies (like the taxi industry), or the unintended-but-positive consequences of rideshare services like Uber and Lyft.

LINK: How Uber and Lyft Reduce Taxi Cab Racism (by Charles Mudede for The Stranger)

Vancouver B.C. does not have Uber or Lyft, the ridesharing service I mainly use in Seattle and New York City. But the city does have plenty of cabs in its main areas, and the drivers tend to be honest and know how to get around their town. But the absence of ridesharing companies in Vancouver has meant the persistence of a problem that, in my experience, pretty much vanishes from the surface of things when you have an account with Uber or Lyft: taxi cab racism. And it’s not so much that this problem vanishes for the black person, but we do not have to deal with it any more, as we have a way around it. Indeed, I had all but forgotten this form of racism until this weekend, when I found myself in downtown Vancouver unable to hail a cab. They just simply passed by me, though many were not engaged. At first I thought I was not visible enough to drivers, but after a few cabs passed by my increasingly theatrical waving, I remembered the color of my skin.

The sad thing is that much of my thinking is strongly opposed to the sharing economy because the society in which its modes are expressed, a neoliberal society, results, for one, in the encroachment of the “entrepreneurial spirit” into all aspects of our lives. … This is far from the best solution. This is why public transportation is so important. It can operate outside the intense neoliberal networks of monitoring and its ethic of individualism. …

What do you think?

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