Every time my partner and I go out for a date downtown, a frustrated sigh often escapes my mouth when it’s time to head home.
It’s late and that means we will have to go through an obstacle course of tracking down a vacant cab that will allow us to be their customer. (Yes, this is probably the only time where I have to frequently demand for someone to take my money for their services.)
And sometimes it works, and other times we have to take the late night shuttle. Truth be told, it’s hard for a black man to get a cab in many parts of Philadelphia.
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Whether in a tailored suit or my Penn hoodie, I have had the uncomfortable experience of seeing a cab pass me by while turning around the other corner to get another person just walking out.
Chris Rock has made jokes about it happening in New York City and it has been a reoccurring theme amongst the pop culture narrative for decades.
But recently, I have taken a step into the black market of the business and I really feel like there is no going back.
Last Wednesday, I was in Northeast Philly for a dinner engagement. I was told in advance that the area was considered “sketchy” by cab drivers as they would hardly ever drive through the area.
Perplexed by their predisposed disposition, I was then offered a solution. “UberX loves our kind,” said one of the guests after the event. “They can’t turn you down if you are already programmed to automatically pay.”
UberX, the arguably more affordable substitution to local cabbing, is considered illegal by the Philadelphia Parking Authority (PPA). Patrons can still however download the service as an app on their Smartphone and request non-certified PPA cars to drop them off at their desired destination at lower rates.
My trek from Northeast to West Philadelphia through UberX was only $18. Getting there originally by a Nigerian cab driver who finally picked me up was $32.
Despite the controversy surrounding how potentially unsafe and questionable UberX’s business practices may be, what they have done for many Philadelphians that our current cab authority hasn’t done is provide a sense of security for an often ignored subset of locals.
Let’s just be frank – some cab drivers racially discriminate. They base their assertions on stereotypes about particular races and their ability to pay/tip or behave respectfully. This is not a new phenomenon.
Growing up, my mother used to tell me about the pizza delivery spots that would not drive by certain areas nearby. I often grew up having to do carryout after being reminded numerously how “sketchy” my community was.
But what has become even more “sketchy” is the level of awareness we have had of this matter and yet found no solutions. Regardless of its pushback, UberX has been the solution to making this black man feel like a first-class resident in my city.
If that’s illegal, then so be it.