Last year, six professional cab drivers in New York City committed suicide. The heartbreaking details are in this New York Times story.
Here is how one cab driver, Lal Singh, describes his daily experience: he drives from Harlem to Wall Street searching in vain for passengers, watching as his potential customers stare at their phones to see when their Uber or Lyft might be arriving.
Mr. Singh is 62 years old and owes over $6000 a month on his taxi medallion.
“When I hear that somebody did suicide, I was thinking about me.”
Ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft have decimated the taxi business. And it’s not like being a cab driver was easy to begin with.
Does this problem have a villain?
I use ride-hailing services several times a week. Sometimes, as I’m waiting for my Uber, I look at the faces of cab drivers as they slow down and beckon me into their vehicles. I show them my phone, the universal sign for, “I’ve chosen to go with your enemy.”
Mostly they drive off without showing emotion, but one cabbie shouted at me, “That is killing me.”
Was he just too nice to say, “You are killing me”?
Am I – and people like me – the villain?
I have been uncomfortable enough with this dynamic that I did some digging. Here is a fascinating Pew study on the use of online service platforms, from Airbnb to Amazon.
Every one of these companies has an impact on other companies in its sector, and therefore its employees.
Here is a fascinating data point from the study: college graduates use online service platforms far more often than people with a high school degree or less.
This is especially true for ride-hailing services. College graduates are more likely to be comfortable with technology, live in an urban area and be moderate to high-income.
Are college graduates killing taxi drivers?
Of course, Uber/Lyft vs Taxis is only an especially stark case in the economic revolution we are currently living through. The knowledge/tech economy is eating the industrial economy. Of the 11.6 million jobs created in the Obama years, 11.5 million went to people with some college education.
And some of those jobs, especially those with tech companies like Uber and Lyft, are responsible for replacing other people’s jobs. That is killing people, and I mean literally.
If you are a college professor or staff member who cares about identity and social justice, how are you setting up discussions about the social justice implications of the identity ‘college educated’ for the vast majority of Americans who aren’t?