When Uber moved into Rockford, some people were ecstatic and some saw problems on the horizon. News outlets report positive statistics from Uber and reviews from happy customers making Uber a no-brainer, but despite pleas from the some, the other side of the story hasn’t been told in full.People know the cab services aren’t happy about the arrival of Uber, but it’s not about the competition, it’s about the politics.
Competition is great in any market, it makes a company look at their operation and find ways to improve what they are offering to consumers. I respect industry growth and evolution, I respect competition and new ways to provide service. However, as the owner of Forest City Cab, I have a different view of how Uber is affecting the community.
In 2010, I founded Designated Drivers of Illinois, the predecessor to Forest City Cab. We operated in much the same way as Uber, we had a smart phone app and you could call or order via the app and get a driver to get you home. At that time, we were notified that if we got compensated in any way, we couldn’t provide those services in a vehicle that was registered with regular passenger plates. So, rather than pushing our way in and providing our services anyways, we complied with the state and local laws and provided our service legally. We evolved into a cab service and gave back to the community by providing insurance funded medical rides to low income residents and elderly riders. Uber has caused a decline in paying riders and we have had to discontinue those specialized services.
Despite offering an app to order from, we still have to operate commercial vehicles, so there is no way for us to compete. Uber came to Rockford operating against current ordinances, with politician support stating they are a rideshare. Uber charges a Base Fare (Flag Drop), fees per mile and per minute (metered fare) with drivers being paid to provide point to point rides (not rideshare) in a passenger vehicle. That is the exact description of a taxi vehicle in our ordinance, but their rates are higher than allowed, especially when you add in the additional fees. I understand their response time is better, but if forced to follow the same rules as the taxi and livery drivers, they would have similar response times.
The City Administrator commented to a reporter recently saying, “We made a very conscious decision when they started in February not to put in local restrictions or regulations yet. We wanted to really encourage them to get their feet wet.” Do any other regulated businesses receive that favoritism from the city? Conservatively, cabs would pay $300,000+ per year to operate as many drivers as Uber does in Rockford. In the future when Uber is regularly in surge, will cabs still be here for those who need it or will you have to pay a multiplied fare?