Self-driving cars and accelerating technological advance means we haven’t seen anything yet.
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You’d think Uber was a global political movement akin to a fascist party, but nope. It’s just an app.
That didn’t stop protests – and near riots – from taking place around the world in 2015. From Rome and London to Sao Paolo and Toronto, taxi drivers took to the streets to demand the company be banned from allowing just anyone to offer rides for a fee.
Wherever it happened, the refrain was the same: taxis are regulated in every city, but UberX drivers are not. In many cases, those regulations mean official cabbies must charge higher rates than the unsanctioned Uber drivers. Consumers are predictably voting with their wallets and traditional taxi drivers are seeing their livelihoods vanish.
Toronto has been a particularly active ground zero in this movement, with cabbies staging several big protests in 2015. The defining image, much to the industry’s chagrin, will be of the driver who assaulted an Uber driver’s car at a protest in December, only to hang onto his mirror for a high-speed ride down University Avenue:
— Matt Llewellyn (@CBCmatt) December 9, 2015
Such mad-man stunts, along with snarling traffic wherever such protests occurred, did much to swing public opinion ever further away from the taxi industry. Uber couldn’t have asked for better PR.
Protesting Uber seems like small potatoes compared to what’s next. What sorts of crazy stunts will cabbies get up to when someone – perhaps Google, Tesla or even Uber – inevitably deploys self-driving taxies, an event that looks very likely within the next decade?
This year’s protests are also a microcosm of what’s to come in a larger sense. With technological advance accelerating, so too is angst about societal change because of it. Predictions of technological replacement, where robots will take human jobs, were everywhere this year.
The Uber wars also show how slow governments are to respond to new technologies, which is something they’re going to have to get better at – at least if they want to keep city streets moving.
For the rest of us, we’re not too different from the protesting cabbies. We’re worried about what we’re going to lose because of advancing technology and not expending enough effort on imagining how we might capitalize and use it to create even better jobs.
That angst was palpable in 2015 and is only set to expand beyond the taxi industry in the years to come.