The tense relationship between ride-sharing company Uber and the taxi industry is about to heat up again, with news Uber could possibly become legal in NSW in the next few months.
Yet, while owners and drivers of Sydney taxis will be apoplectic at this possibility, the women of Sydney will breathe a sigh of relief. Uber has a range of personal safety benefits, and financial opportunities, which mostly affect women. Legalising it would be a huge win.
In other words, Uber really is a feminist issue.
I’ve never used Uber, as I live in a town where it doesn’t (yet) operate. But I do have a 26 year old daughter who lives in inner-city Melbourne and uses it frequently. She loves it, and feels a lot safer in an Uber than in a taxi.
Why? Firstly, she tells me, the cars are always clean and drivers personable. Anyone who’s reeled back in horror from the smell in a taxi or sat for 20 kilometres listening to Neil Mitchell or Alan Jones till their ears bleed, will appreciate the attraction of a clean car and sociable driver offering free water, peppermints, and your choice of radio station or playlist.
Secondly, Uber has done what the taxi industry should’ve done a decade ago – used technology to make bookings fast. It’s all done at the touch of a few smart phone buttons – an obvious improvement on the interminable waiting on hold and sometimes-rude responses of a taxi booker. Apparently some taxi firms now have similar apps, but they’re still not as comprehensive or user-friendly as Uber’s version.
Thirdly, as a long-time provider of fleet driver training, I know neither Uber nor most taxi drivers undergo additional driver training. So there’s no safety advantage with either in terms of extra driver competence. Yet Uber cars are owned and maintained by individuals, and the evidence is that such vehicles are often cared for with more diligence than pool taxis, which are driven by many drivers, so defects may be less likely to be reported and repaired.
Those benefits of Uber operate 24/7 and for both genders, yet for women, Uber especially comes into its own. This is so particularly at night, and in places where women may be alone. Uber passengers call up a car and watch it approach on their app, so no more standing on a lonely, dark corner waiting for a ride that may (or may not) arrive. During their trip a woman, their loved ones and Uber itself can track the car at all times. It wouldn’t be impossible for an Uber driver to assault a passenger (a man who claimed to be an Uber driver was charged with raping a passenger last month), but the risk appears to be reduced when the location and identity of the car and driver is so well documented.
Compare this to taxis, where a woman being assaulted needs to alert enough to take down the taxi and driver number and later make a report. For women who may be frightened and/or intoxicated, fending off a driver whilst simultaneously getting his details – and then feeling able to make a formal complaint – may be a step too far. I’ve heard it said the answer to this is for women avoid being intoxicated in a cab. Really? Classic victim-blaming. People catch cabs because they’ve drunk too much – why is it suddenly a woman’s responsibility to avoid this just in case a man makes the decision to attack her?
And if you think this harassment of women is rare, think again. In Victoria, more than two women every week are reporting assault crimes by taxi drivers. Their ordeal doesn’t end with the reporting – they also have to be believed, which was just what didn’t happen to Emma when she was allegedly harassed in a taxi in Sydney recently.
In addition to serious concerns about assault, Uber drivers don’t make passengers ride-share as taxis sometimes do, so women don’t need to be nervous about another passenger seeing where they live. Uber drivers are also happy to take people short distances which taxis often refuse. It’s thought women use taxis most for short trips because men don’t have as much need to – they have fewer safety concerns walking at night alone, and are probably in more comfortable shoes!
In some situations, using Uber is also safer for a woman than her own car. If she has to walk dark streets to get back to her vehicle at night or – even worse – venture into a dark and lonely high-rise or underground carpark alone, catching an Uber is a safer alternative.
Lastly, Uber X cars are said to be cheaper than taxis. Let’s hope this is true, because with women’s earnings sitting at around 78 per cent of men’s, women need all the help they can get to manage their expenses.
There’s also some evidence that the safety features of Uber make it possible for women to work as drivers – something almost unheard of in the traditional taxi service. Not only would this make Uber safer and more appealing for female passengers, it opens additional employment opportunities for women looking for flexible working hours or part-time employment.
The legalisation of Uber in NSW must go ahead. Let’s hope it does, and is not stymied by a powerful taxi lobby. My bet would be that most of the decision makers will be men, many with little idea of how important Uber is for women.
My message to those people is – stop mucking around, and legalise Uber.
Women are out of the kitchen, on the streets, in your workplace. And women want (and need) Uber.