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Taxi-ation Without Representation: Uber Changes in Transportation

            Like many industries in the world of business, public transportation has experienced a wave of changes in the 21st century. Across the United States, cities are investing more in public transportation as populations, environmental concerns, and frustrations with congestion continue to rise. In Boulder, Denver, and throughout the Front Range, these changes are made apparent through increased RTD usage, the renovation of Denver’s Union Station, and a proposed light-rail system that will connect Boulder and Denver sometime between now and the end of time.

Other local changes in transportation include increased car sharing businesses, such as eGo Carshare, and bike sharing businesses, such as B-Cycle, along with increasingly pedestrian-friendly walking routes—Boulder has in many ways attempted to become a “walking city” that functionally limits car usage; but cars are still an inevitable need for many, as Boulder’s strict expansion laws have forced many individuals to have to make a daily commute from Denver, Longmont, Louisville, and other neighboring cities.

One interesting change in American public transportation has been the increased use of Uber—a mobile app that connects small-time drivers with people seeking rides around town—but, as with everything, Uber has both fans and critics. Fans of Uber say that it is simply a result of the free market, and that the cheaper, more accessible rides that are now available are helping people more easily satisfy their transportation needs, while also decreasing their carbon footprint (through increased carpooling). Additionally, there is evidence that Uber has had effectively decreased drunk driving, particularly in urban areas.

Critics of Uber, however, are quick to point out that the app itself is simply a way around restrictions and regulations in the taxi industry, and that the app often allows people with no background check, supplemental insurance, and no formal training to assume the responsibility of a cab driver while risking their own vehicle, or sometimes even just a rented PCO car for Uber. In New York City, where streets are often congested, the amount of taxis in use are limited through a commoditized coin-exchange system—but with Uber, there is an easy way around this, as these cars travel freely. In San Francisco, the taxi industry as a whole is on the verge of going out of business. I must ask, is such a phenomenon simply an outcome of changes over time, or this a real problem?

In response to fears of sexual assault, the business Chariot for Women has emerged as an Uber imitation that guarantees women will be driven by women; but this business faces an uphill climb through the American legal system, and against the scrutiny of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the company will have to argue that being a woman is a bona fide occupational qualification for this particular service.

Regardless of the outcome of lawsuits against Uber, Lyft, Chariot, and other newly spawned transportation companies, it is obvious that the world of transportation is changing. The need to get around will never subside, but people’s choices in transportation are changing, evolving, and becoming increasingly communal. If there is to ever be a day where transportation supply meets the demands of the people, there will need to first be clear, cohesive legislation passed at both the state and federal level.

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