Uber-style service is a great idea for rural Ireland

RP O’Donnell is convinced the app-based taxi system would, as Jim Daly TD suggests, be a godsend for rural Ireland.

Whenever I have a good idea, I like to broadcast it loudly and publicly, to as many people as possible. Then, if somebody else proposes the same idea at a later time, I can get my peers’s admiration without any of the actual bother. I call this move the Patterson. The James Patterson, after the New York author and philanthropist.

I enjoy a bit of Patterson at dinner parties. My partner, however, does not. When I start badgering our guests with ideas like, replacing all public hedgerow with broccoli, she will give me a series of stern looks. Failing this, if I’m really immersed in the health benefits of easily accessible roadside vegetables, she will march me by the elbow to a small, quiet corner of the room. I never notice.

This is how I found myself repeatedly pitching the idea that Uber would be a godsend for rural Ireland, to what I thought was a rapturous audience, but was in fact just a small houseplant. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I proposed it. Now that Jim Daly TD has proposed the same, alas, I’ve won only the admiration of a shrubbery. But still, it’s a great idea.

It’s a bit strange, however, that a TD is proposing an app. Shouldn’t they be proposing legislation to combat the real problems behind rural isolation — that draconian learner driver regulations are coupled with a three-month-long waiting list for full licence tests; that the price of car insurance for a young person is skyrocketing to the point of extortion; and that Shane Ross exists, and speaks?

Why stop with just one app? Why not apps for all of our country’s problems? For example, a streaming app for church services — call it NotAPriest. I have an idea for Simon Harris, to help solve the trolley crisis — it’s a Tinder-style app, to free up beds.

Hats off to Daly though; his Uber-style app is a realistic and clever solution to a serious problem. I lived in Boston, where Uber is massive. And not just in the city, but in the small surrounding towns. Compared to taxis, it was infinitely cheaper and more flexible.

Jim Daly

But there was a more important benefit. To get a taxi, you had to be where the taxis were. In my hometown, we were too small to have any. If you wanted a taxi — and you really had to want one — it would take ages and cost you your children’s inheritance. Uber solved all of these problems. Suddenly, people who never would’ve dreamed of taking a taxi were taking an Uber into town regularly.

To go to the library, or to get drunk and frisky — sometimes both. Sometimes simultaneously.

But Uber is not without its problems. I myself have been chased down the street by a screaming Uber driver — just because he, as the driver with a working satnav, got us lost. Bad experiences are not uncommon either. Uber’s driver screening process is terrible.

Another problem — Uber relies on satnav, which relies on clearly defined roads. A bit of a wobble there for rural areas, I’m afraid. I’m not sure if you’ve been to the country recently, but out here, we like our evenings long and with a bit of a stretch in them, and we like our roads ambiguous and in the general shape of a horseshoe. Along with this, as Daly noted in his proposal, the existing legislation doesn’t allow for the service anyway.

But would it work to combat rural isolation, as Daly proposed?

Daly thinks so. As he said, “It’s not just about drink-driving, it’s about people wanting to go to the shop, to the cinema, or to go anywhere.” That’s what rural isolation is — feeling helpless and alone because you can’t take part in normal, daily life.

Me? I must admit I’m torn. There’s one major difference between mine and Daly’s plans. I said Uber should come in, not an Uber-style app handled by the government. Uber’s main benefit is its low rates.

The Irish Government isn’t exactly known for keeping costs down. This is the Government, after all, who spent €16m to rent an empty building, and are building a €1.5 billion monument to incompetence. (And spending another €450,000 to figure out how they managed that.) The Government should probably be focusing on curing the underlying problems of crises, instead of treating the symptoms

But that’s not going to happen. And anyway, it’s the Digital Age — if progress can’t be made through legislation, well, there’s an app for that.

Uber, Air BnB, and many other successful apps arose to fill a need that traditional businesses couldn’t. In this age, we might as well get used to everyone trying their hand at apps, including the government. And, for what it’s worth, Daly’s app is a great idea.

Even my houseplant agrees. It’s effective: it keeps pedestrians safe, reduces drink-driving and counters isolation — all while putting a few quid in drivers’s pockets, so they can go a fraction less into catastrophic debt when they renew their insurance.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a Pokemon Go-style app to pitch to Eoghan Murphy. (If people aren’t in their houses, they can’t notice that they haven’t got one.)

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