Uber-dee, Uber-dah, life goes on: Uber vs taxis

18 Sep 2015

As featured in DisruptiveViews

Not a day goes by without another headline about a protest, public demonstration, legal challenge or driver mishap to do with Uber. No other modern-day digital business has received so much attention and vitriol than Uber, but there is one striking difference here – virtually none of it is coming from the general public or its customers.

Everything is emanating from the taxi sector – a privileged and protected class that has done little since the days of horse and carts to make life easy for its customers – the ones now flocking in droves to Uber.

Let me state now, quite categorically, that I don’t like taking taxis, I don’t particularly like taxi drivers and I simply abhor taxi companies that completely missed the technology boat that Uber jumped on, and are now crying foul. If these taxi groups had given the same attention to customers as they do to their clan members, they would probably have never had to contend with the likes of Uber.

I believe I am eminently qualified to make these bold statements and can back them up after having used taxis in over forty countries over the last forty years. I have been cheated by drivers, abused by them, had my bags dumped in the middle of a highway by them, had to put up with their poor personal hygiene, filthy cabs, political commentary, lousy music, poor driving skills and once even had my life threatened by one.

I have waited in airport queues for hours, been taken the long way home, got left standing at official taxi ranks whilst the drivers picked up ‘preferred’ passengers for the kerb. I’ve been short-changed, defrauded and even hard my credit card details stolen and used by one particularly dumb driver. I’ve had to wake sleeping drivers and once had a Chinese Lewis Hamilton try to win a grand prix with me in the back seat hanging on for grim death.

I have complained to taxi authorities, filed formal complaints and even pressed charges but never once felt that justice was served. In some countries taxi groups act more like the mafia and seem above the law. In others their lobbying power is tantamount to coercive, even controlling.

There are, of course, some exceptions like London’s black cab drivers. And, yes, I know that taxi laws are in place to protect the public, but most are also there to protect the drivers from any form of competition and it is competition that forces better pricing and better service. And there lies the main reason why taxis didn’t even think to come up with what Uber devised that took the market by storm.

Customers vote with their feet, or should I say their mobile devices. The Uber app that allows you to make a booking from anywhere, see the price before getting in the vehicle, have all the details of the driver, his car, its location as it travels towards you and not having to pay at the end of the journey because it is all done automatically from your nominated payment method.

The drivers are clean, as are the cars they drive, because you get to vote for them at the end of the ride, and they get to vote for you. Lousy drivers lose their jobs, lousy customers lose access to the service. A purely self-regulating system that WORKS! And it works the same in every country that Uber is allowed to operate.

Some countries have forced tweaks to the system, others have banned Uber outright, but if the taxi operators think they will stop Uber with legal or illegal means and violent threats they are sadly mistaken. Instead of wasting their time and money fighting why not adopt or even copy what Uber has done?

I’ll tell you why, because it simply won’t work the same. Having lived under a highly regulated and protective cocoon for so long change is going to be very difficult. For many, simply having to bathe and wear clean clothes will be a task. Having to buy and maintain a modern vehicle a daunting task. Learning to use a smartphone may even be beyond some.

For governments and regulators, as long as Uber has the necessary insurance protection in place then leave them be. Why the need for special taxi drivers’ licences and having the ‘knowledge’ when GPS navigation is endemic. If the Uber drivers don’t pass muster their customers have the power to control dangerous drivers, poor service and unethical behavior – all the things taxi groups and regulators have failed to do with taxis. The same applies to any other industry that feels that it is protected from the digital revolution and changing public opinion.

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