I’ve been back in Israel for a little over a month. In that time I have experienced nearly all forms of auto-related transportation including (but not limited to) public buses, private buses, the light rail, a car driven by an Israeli teen with no concept of speed limits, taxis, and an Uber. I was honestly shocked when I opened up my Uber app one night in Tel Aviv and saw that I had the choice between a regular cab and an actual Uber. Being a loyal Uber customer, I of course took my chances and went with the Uber.
Like with all other Ubers, the driver was just a regular person who happened to have vehicular access. I began speaking to him in Hebrew, to which he replied in English. He asked where I was from and I explained that while the greater Boston area is technically where my permanent residence is, I study in New Orleans. He then launched into a story about how when he was the number one basketball player in Israel at age eighteen, he spent about a month in New Orleans at UNO. There, he tried all the food I have not yet summoned the courage to taste even after a year in the same city. We chatted about the French Quarter, and I explained how after your first or second visit, it loses its charm as you realize that it is in essence the trash can of New Orleans tourism.
I then expressed my passion for Uber in New Orleans, which compelled my Israeli Uber driver to share with me how Tel Aviv Uber is in the process of doing a trial run right now: Uber runs from 7 PM until 2 AM in Tel Aviv. You can only get an Uber in Tel Aviv, but you can get dropped off in the surrounding areas like Holon, Ramat Gan, and Bat Yam. It’s a very small program, but after this singular ride I was sold—Israel needs Uber.
I do not like taxis. While I am perhaps biased due to my loyalty to Uber, I strongly feel that cabs suck, especially in Israel. I understand that the taxi industry in Israel supplies many jobs to many people and I understand that introducing something like Uber into the Israeli market place would cause absolute mayhem amid taxi drivers (especially in light of the recent protests at Ben Gurion Airport), but I think it’s necessary.
Israel is a modern, capitalistic society with a free market economy. Therefore, there should be no restrictions on innovations like Uber. Due to Uber’s background checks (which would surely be even more enhanced to fit Israeli standards) security is not the issue. The issue here is the taxi drivers. They don’t want Uber because that would mean more competition for them. It would mean that there would be more competitors, aside from other taxi drivers, who are offering the same service, but at a cheaper, unmetered rate.
One of the great things about Uber drivers is that they get paid by the hour. This means that they aren’t relying on your particular ride, necessarily, to make their paycheck. Taxi drivers, however, don’t have an hourly rate—they get paid based on singular rides, thereby creating an incentive for them to take longer routes or to perhaps allow a mix-up in the language barrier between them and their foreign passengers (even if those said foreign passengers are fluent in Hebrew). Uber is a better system because you matter less to the driver. Yet, in one sense, you also matter more to the driver.
I cannot begin to describe the types of conversations I have had with my Uber drivers. I’ve learned about my Uber drivers’ marital problems and stepchildren, and they’ve learned about my roommate issues and abnormal eating habits. There are no boundaries once you get into an Uber—just an expectation that your driver will get you from point A to point B safely. Taxis, however, are different because it’s not just a side job—it’s a main job. Uber drivers are regular people with cars and a driver’s license, looking to make a few extra bucks. Because of this, there isn’t a service mentality. Rather, Uber drivers recognize that they are regular people, being paid to drive other regular people
somewhere. Thus, Uber inhibits an established lack of boundaries.
This lack of boundaries is so inherently Israeli that I’m honestly surprised the minister of transportation hasn’t yet embraced Uber with open arms. Israel is an entire country of people with bad boundaries, so why not let Israel have Uber—the model that seems custom made for Israelis? The only possible drawback to over-sharing or over-asking is the notorious Uber star rating. But even then, it’s Israel, so Israelis are bound to just outright ask for five stars, as my Israeli Uber driver did. He asked me to give him the coveted five stars and he said that he’d return the favor, reminding me that my mother’s rating is only at 4.81 stars and that I should really improve upon my passenger skills.
Or, better yet, Israel should accept Uber so that I can meet more drivers with boundaries that parallel my own.