Red Brick Daily

Uber is controversial for some in Taiwan. But nowhere is it more controversial than in the taxi sector. After seeing protests over the last year by furious taxi drivers, we thought it would be good to have a conversation with a real life taxi driver to better understand their arguments.

After all, for many, the logic is simple: evolution is evolution … if you can’t evolve with the times — then you go extinct.

If another service provides a better service than yours … you either match them or get out of the industry … it’s a cruel world but we didn’t invent the system.

But, of course, there are two sides to every story … and it didn’t take long for us to find a taxi driver willing to speak to us on condition his name and taxi union not be identified.

He is a Kaohsiung taxi driver whom we’ll call “Mr. Lin.” He is in his late 50s and lives in the Gushan District of the city with his wife and two children. He drives his cab, he claimed, for roughly 12 hours a day, 6 days a week.

Lin once worked at a trading company, but as manufacturing moved out his office job became redundant. He says he bounced around a variety of positions before deciding to get licensed as a taxi driver — a job he’s now been doing for just under a decade.

Here is the translated conversation we had … which follows the ‘spirit’ of the conversation — but cannot be called verbatim:


RBD: “Why are taxi drivers so hostile to Uber? You could use the same kind of apps and modify things a bit to be more competitive, no?”

LIN: “Look inside my cab: I have an EasyCard instant payment device, a KHH iPass quick pay device, I accept credit cards, I have this computer touch screen thing that translates the names of major local destinations. I work for a large taxi union and we have an app just like Uber … we can also be ordered by phone. Generally, we can be at your front door within six minutes of getting a call. I have no idea what else I could do to make my taxi more convenient or competitive. You can also pay through our app … just like Uber. No cash needed! There are no additional measures I can think of to be ‘more competitive.’ I can’t reduce my rates as that would be illegal. If you have any ideas of how I could do better … by all means tell me!!”

RBD: “Okay, but then why are ever-increasing numbers of people choosing Uber over taxis? There has to be a reason. Is it the drivers?”

LIN: “Some drivers might be a problem, but we actually have more safety checks built in than Uber: My union does background checks, criminal checks, doesn’t allow smoking or betel nut chewing, makes us pledge not to talk about religion or politics, and makes it very easy for people to report any uncivil behavior or any other gripe they might have about the driver. I think it simply boils down to the fact that an Uber car might be a Volvo or BMW, but the best I can do is a Toyota Wish.”

RBD: “But this car looks brand-new. How old is it?”

LIN: “About a year and a half. We’re only allowed to drive the vehicle for three years before we upgrade.”

RBD: “Three years? That’s nothing. Your vehicle is probably newer than many Uber cars.”

LIN: “Yeah. –Overall it’s just frustrating. You see that license? I had to take tests and go to classes to get that. Then I had to register for a taxi medallion … I hear they are much more expensive in the West … but still it costs money here to pay taxes, inspection charges, car upkeep … and if I want to be in this taxi union … I have to pay a monthly fee and a percentage of my day’s earnings. Any guy with a drivers’ license can grab their car and become a ‘ride-sharing’ Uber driver. How is that fair?”

RBD: “Well, it obviously isn’t … but it is a reality … and you can’t change reality, right?”

LIN: “I get what you’re saying … and I’m not trying to hold back progress or innovation … I just want fairness. They should have to get the same licenses I have to get if they’re running a taxi service.”

RBD: “Courts in Taiwan seem to have gone back and forth on the legality of Uber in Taiwan. Do you think eventually it will be outlawed?”

LIN: “Nah. You can’t turn back time. Even if they outlawed it people would still organize stuff like this via the internet or something.”

RBD: “Would raising taxi fees — or the opposite — lowering them … have any effect on your competitiveness with Uber … in your opinion?”

LIN: “Those measures could make things very messy very quickly. The government is now talking about opening up the taxi market so there can be different ‘kinds’ of taxis … Some might be more luxurious but more expensive … and they might even get rid of the rule requiring taxis to be yellow. — But I don’t see how any of that will improve my business.”

RBD: “Can we be so blunt as to ask what you make in a month … working 12 hours a day?”

LIN: “Sure. — Maybe 50,000 … But there’s a lot of stuff that gets taken out of that … so as you might imagine, I’m not saving a lot of money … if any. Do you know what it costs to send my kids to English cram school?”

RBD: (Laughing sympathetically) We do, we do. Raising kids isn’t┬ácheap.”

LIN: “You know, maybe that’s the bigger issue. Maybe it’s not Uber … maybe it’s just how stagnant everything has been for what seems like decades now. When you work this hard and you get to be my age, it just seems frustrating that progress is so slow. I made more money 10 years ago that I do now.”

RBD: “This seems to be a frustration in many countries.”

LIN: “Definitely. But the least we can do in a changing economic climate is try to make things fair. How can you run a taxi service without following the law regarding running a taxi service? Imagine if this was some other industry. What if all of a sudden anyone could be a doctor?”

RBD: “Well … that would certainly be a nightmare.”

LIN: “It’s not the same, I know … but … (sigh) … it’s just difficult. Ask any taxi driver in any city in Taiwan and they’ll tell you the same. We don’t hate technology. We don’t hate Uber … We just want our government to look after us. We are playing by the rules! Why should we be punished for that?”

RBD: “Mr. Lin, thank you so much for speaking with us. We appreciate you being so frank.”

LIN: “Not at all. And thanks for taking a taxi and not an Uber!”

RBD: “Ha. You’re welcome!”

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This interview/conversation is not meant to be pro- or anti- anything.

In the end, doesn’t a customer paying for a service have the right to seek out the service they feel is best? They are also permitted to make their decisions based on whatever metrics they choose.

But … if nothing else, this little chat helped us understand the gulf between Uber lovers and haters a bit better … and while we don’t have any solutions, at least we did begin a conversation.

How do you feel about Uber?

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