I was a taxi driver, but only for three days and for journalism.
Two years ago, before a local election in Turkey, my newsroom and I decided to cover a story behind a taxi wheel.
In my country, beyond the nationwide polls, we can trust two “amateur research groups” — barbers and taxi drivers.
They talk to people randomly and they obtain the most realistic public idea. I could not be a barber; it would be cruelty for people who wanted to have a good haircut.
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So I became a taxi driver.
For three days I talked to people about public opinion on the upcoming election. I noticed that people trusted taxi drivers as friends. The passengers would tell everything honestly as if they were on a psychiatrist’s couch instead of being in the backseat of a cab.
However, people still have several issues with taxis in Turkey. Frequently drivers are rude. Every so often they swindle their clients, especially tourists.
About two years ago, Uber came to Turkey and some people started using that service because it is cheaper than taxis, and Uber drivers are more polite than ordinary taxi drivers.
But Uber has had judicial problems in Turkey.
A taxi owner in my country is supposed to buy a plate that costs nearly $500,000. But Uber drivers are not yet doing that. Taxi drivers have protested and urged authorities to create a legal framework that controls what Uber can do.
Turkey is not the only country that has had legal problems with Uber in Europe.
Two years ago Spain’s government banned Uber after hostility from local tax firms drove it off the streets. But Uber returned to Spain last month after new regulations were put in place.
In February 8,000 traditional black cab drivers took part in a protest in London against Uber. They blocked lanes in the heart of the city. There were similar protests in Italy, Belgium and Poland.
But people like using the modern smartphone applications that Uber offers. I’ve become a member in Turkey but I’ve never used it there.
When I arrived in Columbia, Mo., in March, I decided to use Uber when I noticed that there were no yellow cabs around the city.
Now, here in Kansas City, I like using Uber. It is easy and cheap. And occasionally drivers tell their interesting stories: Someone wants to save money and move to California. Another person wants to write a book. Or they come from Somalia, Brazil and other countries around the world.
Usually they have a profession besides driving an Uber car. I have not had any problem with them so far. Drivers frequently ask me if Uber is in Turkey. I respond it, “Yes, this is a global issue.”
It appears to me that its ride-hailing system has a transparency for clients. When you hail a car you can see the driver’s name, photo and the model of the car on your phone. Still, that might not be enough for security. That’s part of the reason Missouri lawmakers recently have discussed how to best govern Uber’s actions.
And just like in Turkey or other countries in Europe, legal regulations are necessary.
As a former short-time cab driver, I can easily say that people are getting used to hailing a car with their smartphones. It will not be stopped anymore.
Gokce Aytulu is an Alfred Friendly fellow from Turkey. The Star will be his host between April and September. Twitter: @GokceAytulu