The recent reports that taxi drivers have been suffering because of the emergence of rideshare services was no doubt greeted with a smirk by the millions of Black and brown folks whose arms, extended to hail cabs, were for years routinely and intentionally ignored thanks to racial profiling.
To be clear, the unfortunate trend of suicides increasing among taxi drivers since Uber, Lyft and the like rose to prominence was nothing to rejoice in. But there is certainly some karmic solace to be had knowing that taxi drivers, many of whom have likely been guilty of the aforementioned racial profiling in favor of stopping for passengers who didn’t have a hint of darkness in their skin, are now fighting for the very existence they once exclusively enjoyed.
The industry-wide, residual effects of Uber, Lyft and their fellow ridesharing competitors have particularly been felt heavily in New York City and Washington, D.C., both cities where this writer was for more than two decades left stranded innumerable times because cabbies didn’t like the double-whammy my physical appearance provided – the cringeworthy, cultural combination of brown skin and dreadlocks.
And, on the rare occasion cabbies did stop, once it was learned that the destination was in a Black and/or brown neighborhood, drivers would casually respond they were off duty, only to pull off and stop a few feet later for a white fare.
The hate, whether it was for the passenger(s) or themselves, was undeniable. There was also a fear factor for drivers, as the threat of being robbed or, even worse, physically attacked, loomed. However, in the land of opportunity, career changes come a dime a dozen. In other words, no one forced anybody to be a taxi driver, let alone stay one, especially once it became apparent how discriminatory it was.
Ridesharing, in turn, has become the great equalizer for livery service. But it has also prompted taxi advocates to complain that the “Influx of app-based car services has driven down wages for traditional cabbies,” according to a report by the Wall Street Journal late last month.
As a result, taxi advocates have demanded for legal reforms that would create a much more even playing field for drivers through industry regulations that have yet to be completely defined; the same type of even playing field that Black and brown people hailing taxis have wanted for decades. Now that they got it, cabbies are crying foul. Oh, the irony.
Innovation is many times borne out of necessity, and ridesharing is no exception to that rule. If taxi drivers didn’t discriminate against prospective passengers, it’s debatable there would have been the type of urgency to pioneer the technology. It was also unclear if rideshare apps would have been embraced so warmly and used so widely if cabs stopped for each person who hailed one.
Even when legislation was enacted specifically forbidding the type of discrimination detailed above, the practice continued uninterrupted and, seemingly, unpunished, further infuriating prospective passengers of color. See Danny Glover for more on this.
To be fair, I’ve had more than a few instances of both Uber and Lyft drivers, many of whom work for both services, being completely obnoxious, rude and possible racist. Still, at the end of the day, they picked me up and took me were I wanted to go with the only real disputes being which routes to take.
But as reports of racial profiling run rampant, most recently with Starbucks in Philadelphia and the white woman affectionately referred to as BBQ Becky in Oakland, not one single tear for the taxi industry will stream down my smirking face.