Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

June 18, 2014

Cambridge Uber Alles

Filed under: Cambridge,transportation — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 11:32 am

Cambridge Uber Alles

TaxiJune 16 – It’s fun watching from the sidelines as Uber, an estimated $18 billion company, brings out the troops at License Commission hearings in support of its ability to operate an iPhone-operated livery service for urban professionals with company credit cards and fistfuls of disposable income. Reading or listening to the testimony, you would swear that they were the transportation equivalent of Mother Teresa feeding the poor. The local taxicab cartels in Cambridge and Boston are no better. They are effectively city-endorsed gangsters who have paid exorbitant prices for taxicab medallions in order to secure the right to overcharge passengers and protest any measure that might result in consumer savings. Perhaps the most entertaining aspect to the conflict is that legions of union-supporting, left-winging, capitalism-protesting, Cambridge Occupying hipsters are essentially arguing for free enterprise with minimal regulation. Oh, the horror! Here’s what Cambridge Mayor David Maher had to say about the conflict:

"Years of careful investment, smart urban planning and targeted economic development in Cambridge have allowed for a transit-centered culture to emerge for people who not only live here, but come here to work every day. Cambridge has been incredibly successful in reducing automobile usage, strengthening our bicycle and pedestrian options, and providing an environment where innovative transit solutions can thrive," said Cambridge Mayor David Maher. "We are the worldwide leader in innovation and we have no intention to back away from the progress we have made. I have been assured that the License Commission intends to have a fair hearing on the proposed transportation services regulations. I trust that they will have an open, transparent process and that tonight’s meeting is the first in a series of dialogues with the public and with affected businesses."

I am a big fan of David Maher and we all know that he is perhaps the most capable mediator in the city. It is worth emphasizing, however, that this is a battle waged along lines that are irrelevant for most of the people who live in Cambridge. We walk, we bike, we take buses and trains, and some of us may even occasionally drive without apologizing for our contribution to the destruction of the planet. How many Cantabrigians actually travel in taxis and limousines? Then again, perhaps I’m behind the times and failed to notice that many new residents prefer to be carried in chariots to their destinations at exorbitant cost as they send text messages and robotically play with their apps on their precious iPhones and other devices.

I’ll take the bus, thank you. – RW


  1. Just to be clear–Uber offers what you call “livery” service, but it also offers “Uber X,” essentially equivalent to taxi service at rates no higher (and sometimes lower) than taxis. I increasingly choose Uber because (1) I know exactly (within a minute or two) when they’ll arrive — and I can avoid dealing with the thug-sounding dispatch operators who represent the cab companies; and (2) the transaction is totally electronic–I’m out of the vehicle within 15 seconds upon arrival.

    Comment by Michel G — June 18, 2014 @ 12:58 pm

  2. The instant twitter outrage (tsunami of outrage?) any time there’s a disagreement on policy is funny. Regardless, taxis/uber, etc. (along with zipcar) are an important part of urban transportation. A person can rely on these instead of having (and storing streetside) a personal car. Of course the cost (at least for taxis, never used uber) is not for the faint of wallet.

    Comment by Greg Heidelberger — June 18, 2014 @ 1:30 pm

  3. Bob, From the technologically challenged LOL or LOL. Either way, incisive commentary. It really is all about the GREAT GAME of politics. Best, Kevin Crane

    Comment by Kevin Crane — June 18, 2014 @ 9:10 pm

  4. And then there is the insanity that each city and town licenses its own cabs and consequently cabs can’t pickup a passenger when they are in another municipality. Lots of people take cabs from Cambridge to Boston. And it works real well at the airport where half of the arriving cabs have to drive back empty (contributing to traffic and pollution, consuming fuel, and not earning money) while people wait longer than necessary.

    Comment by John Gintell — June 18, 2014 @ 11:26 pm

  5. Does Lyft operate in the Boston area also? I thought they did from what I saw on an episode of Stossel.
    He nailed this issue perfectly by the way.

    Comment by FRED BAKER — June 20, 2014 @ 10:22 am

  6. This sounds like a “kids these days” rant that’s pretty far off the mark.

    Is a bus really sufficient to take you everywhere you want to go, when you need to go there, or do you fall back on a car that you own? A personal car, which you own, park, and maintain, is much more of an exorbitant chariot than a taxi or Uber.

    People take Uber because it’s inexpensive and reliable, not to flaunt wealth, as you seem to think.

    Comment by Rob Speer — June 24, 2014 @ 1:55 am

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