Uber is an app designed by a multi-national transportation network company, created and founded in San Francisco, California. The app connects you to hired drivers who will pick you up and drop you off at your desired location for a fee. Once you’ve signed up with your credit or debit card, your ride is cashless, cardless and paperless.
Now, I’m no business student, nor am I an expert in business and law, but I still have an opinion about it all. In Montreal, the integration of Uber into the taxi service life has been less than easy or ideal. I am aware that this is the case internationally, but as I am from Montreal, this is the best comparison I can make. Uber drivers are often ticketed by police officers on the look-out or have their vehicles seized, and you are constantly hearing about taxi union protests in the middle of downtown that halts traffic for a full day and fills our social media feeds for a week. In Cape Town, however, it appears to be a different story.
Before coming to South Africa, I had used Uber once. One morning when I was going to be late for my workout at the gym, I decided to test the app. Unfortunately, the driver got lost twice, so that was enough of that app for me. However, once setting foot on Cape Town soil, I was bombarded by the frequent throw around of the words ‘Shall we Uber?’ and ‘Let’s Uber it’. Understandably, I was new to the city, exposed to a different culture and way of life, but never did I imagine that the secret Montreal society of Uber was a common and open practice here in Cape Town.
I grew up in the age of technology, internet, iPods, cellphones, but I am not a child of convenience and effortless achievement or success. I grew up in a household that taught independence and self-sufficiency. Do I like the product of North America’s handsfree, Bluetooth, online shopping and tap-and-go surge for convenience? Yes. Do I need it? No. I don’t watch YouTube videos on my phone, nor do I check Facebook or read the news on it. I don’t order groceries online or store my files on the Cloud, and I don’t need my car to tell me how to parallel park. In today’s modern world, everyone wants to do everything from their mobile phone and the couch. You’re thinking ‘Uber is not much different than calling a taxi, you just press a button on your phone instead of making a call,’ but it’s not about the physical demands of getting an Uber ride, it’s about the convenience of using one, and how the simplicity of it all makes humans less resourceful and more dependent on technology.
I, for one, think Uber is a great app and its innovation is insurmountable. But considering the legal chaos it has created, and the clash it has with taxi unions all over the world, what can be said about its importance and relevance in different countries? I believe the current legality of Uber within municipalities – at least until peace or agreement has been made with the government and taxi forum – should depend on the necessity of access to transport in the city. For example, Montreal is probably the last city that needs Uber. It has one of the best-rated public transport systems in the world that runs day and night, the Bixi Bike system is implemented during the spring and summer months, and in most areas the city streets are relatively safe to walk in at all times of the day. Save for downtown in the middle of the day, parking in Montreal is pretty easy, and if necessary, there are multiple taxi services that are available, regardless of their cost.
Cape Town is a completely different story. The difference in price between a taxi ride and an Uber ride is huge, and if the driver in a taxi knows you are a foreigner, they often hit you with an even bigger fee. The trains are not always dependable and they are definitely not safe, generally at any time of the day. I can’t say much about the parking, but walking alone is never encouraged, and being out wandering the streets at night is a definite ‘don’t’.
There is a friendly and recognisable comfort in the Uber community and its riders.
Here is where the convenience and safety of Uber is necessary, and not a luxury. There is a friendly and recognisable comfort in the Uber community and its riders. As a bonus, it creates jobs in a part of the world where the socio-economic gap is wide. South Africa has a 27% unemployment rate, so having anything that is multi-beneficial and good for economic growth is a good thing. ‘The majority of independent tourists that visit South Africa use Uber,’ says Unathi Sonwabile Henama, member of the Black Management Forum and teacher of tourism at Tshwane University of Technology, ‘which is now a global brand, and accepted as an essential service if you seek to promote tourism within a destination.’
I will admit, I am a resistor of change and unfamiliarity, and I still enjoy writing by pen on a piece of paper. Despite my unwillingness to grow with the times, I do it anyway. But I constantly ask, ‘Do we really need this?’ After having come to the conclusion that Uber is just another sippy cup for the new generation, Cape Town has opened my eyes to another side of the argument. And rather than admit that I spoke too hastily of the world’s obsession with indolence, I will limit my opinion to those populations with advanced transport systems and easy commutes. To follow, is my eventual acceptance of the ever-changing globe and allowing myself to indulge a little: say goodbye to hailing a cab, and enjoy the Uber ride.
An aspiring journalist and sports enthusiast, Adara plays rugby and soccer with the intention to become a sports side-line reporter for the NFL or FIFA. She also loves the theatre and Greek mythology. Her work in Cape Town is helping her gain experience and build a portfolio for future journalist endeavours.
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