Uber Tales: Why Taxis Are Scared and Uber is Good For People.

Taxi drivers hate Uber drivers like me.  I’m being literal, they really, really do not like us.  It’s not so bad here in Orlando where I drive in the late night / early morning hours (I get glared at occasionally), but in major cities like New York and other countries where Uber hasn’t already been banned, taxi drivers will actually become violent towards Uber drivers.  It’s not hard to see why; they’re being beaten at their own game.  Taxi service has been around since before we had motor vehicles.  Over the years as places like Manhattan grew into the sprawling metropolises they are today, public and alternative transportation became a huge necessity, which gave rise to the booming taxi cab service that would become a major component of city transportation and a prominent cultural icon.

For nearly a century cab service was without competition.  Sure, there were different cab companies, but they all abided by the same general rule set and system.  They were competitive with each other’s pricing and most often operated the same style of vehicle.  Sure, you had different levels as you do today: Private, higher end “town car” service and localized “pedal cabs” for getting around downtown, but for the most part the position of the taxi cab in our society went without competition or alternative for many decades… until now.

Originally only upscale cars.

Originally only upscale cars.

Where Uber Came From:

In 2008, Garrett Camp, the founder of StumbleUpon (which he sold to Ebay) got together with another web visionary named Travis Kalanik.  Both were coming off of previously successful ventures and looking for their next big thing.  They teamed up to tackle the taxi problem in San Fransisco, and the original “UberCab” prototype app was born.  By 2009, Camp had re-taken over StumbleUpon and hired Kalanik to directly control and develop their ongoing UberCab application.  After much testing and development, UberCab was launched in San Fransisco on July 5th, 2010.

However, even from the beginning, challenges arose.  By October of 2010 the city of San Francisco served UberCab with a cease and desist order for operating a cab company without proper licensing.  So Uber dropped “cab” from their name and officially became “Uber”, an “upscale ride-sharing service” just as AirBNB allows hosts to share their apartment.  Using this model, the founders raised significant capital from eager investors and launched in New York City by May, 2011.  Following that success was Seattle, Washington DC, Boston, Chicago and even Paris as the first international expansion.

In some places it's almost warfare.

In some places it’s almost warfare.

Up to this point, Uber had been primarily based an affordable premium vehicle (“Black Car”) service.  But just as they began to face some backlash regarding surge pricing and fares over the holiday, the unveiled their next secret weapon: UberX.  Based on the above mentioned AirBNB philosophy, this service is cheaper and focuses on newer model hybrid and sedan drivers to get customers where they need to go.  This facilitates expansion into more cities and draws even greater ire from taxi services and cities seeking to regulate the quickly growing trend.  By 2013 Uber was facing tens of thousands of dollars in fines and new competition from other ride-sharing services like Lyft and Sidecar.  However, that same year, California officially recognized “Ride-Sharing” as it’s own official transportation category, providing specific regulations, but paving the way for Uber and other services to operate without the previous fines and roadblocks they had faced.

However, opposition is fierce for Uber, from competitors like Lyft and especially from large, well-established taxi companies and unions.  Because of this, less progressive states are slow to act on regulations regarding the status of ride-sharing platforms.  Much of it is because of outside pressure and in other cases they simply don’t know what to do with it.

Why Uber is Important:

With the history out of the way I can relate a bit more personally to you.  With all the politics involved and the headlines, what you don’t see is the actual good that Uber and it’s drivers are doing for the everyday person.  Allow me to give you a few examples:

"Are you my Uber?"  "No."

Perfectly normal night for an Uber driver.

A few weeks ago I got an early AM request in the Winter Park area.  Shortly after accepting the ride through my app, the client called me.  He had a flight leaving in just over an hour, and the taxi that he had requested a day earlier “couldn’t make it”.  This was for a very important meeting,in Chicago that day and he could not afford to be late.  I didn’t promise I would get him there because the time frame was tight, but I was at his door within five minutes and had him to the airport with about thirty-five minutes to spare.  I don’t know if he made it or not, but he was grateful to have some kind of hope and without Uber he never would’ve had a chance.

Fast forward to about four nights ago and a much more severe situation.  Around five-thirty in the morning I get a request from a neighborhood nearby.  As I’m traveling to the address given, the client calls me and I pick up.  She says: “Hello? Listen, I need you to help me.  I don’t know where I am and I need you to get me out of here.”  I tell her that I’ve got her location on GPS and I’ll be there in a couple minutes.  When I arrive in the area, I find her walking down the side of the road in a black dress with her phone flashlight on for visibility.

She gets in the car and immediately thanks me.  She explains that she had been downtown and had foolishly come back to this guy’s place.  When she arrived she discovered she was alone with he and three of his roommates, and while he had been relaxed and laid back while they were out, he had become aggressive and “creepy” when they arrived at his place.  When she politely (tactfully) tried to defuse the situation, he had put his hands around her neck and began acting more aggressively (to be clear, not violent yet, but implying that things could escalate if she wasn’t cooperative.)  Keeping her calm, she managed to talk her way out of the house by telling them that her friend was worried about her and was already on their way to get her.  Once outside, she used the Uber app to request me so that I could find her and get her home safe.  She relayed this story to me as we were driving and said things like “you probably saved my life”.  While that might be an overstatement (she was already out of the house by the time I got there,) the fact is that a taxi would never have made it to her in the five minutes it took me to get there (especially at 5:30AM in the morning.)  She believes that if she hadn’t gotten away soon, he would’ve come looking for her and it could’ve ended badly.  We stopped at McDonald’s along the way and I dropped her off at her apartment with the trip costing her somewhere around fifteen dollars.  Small price to pay for “salvation”.

Uber makes it a lot easier to be responsible.

Uber makes it a lot easier to be responsible.

The two above are specific examples, but I also want to talk about the huge number of drunken college students and downtown dwellers that might otherwise decide to try to drive if not for Uber.  I’ve heard numerous stories from people who’s friends have been killed in alcohol-related crashes and others who have had their licenses suspended.  The general consensus is that taxis often take too long, cost too much and the drivers are often rude and/or “creepy”.  In contrast Uber is “cool”, “fun”, comfortable” and usually much cheaper than their taxi counterparts.  This social standing and minimal financial impact makes a huge difference with the (often underage) college students to whom conserving image and money are their primary concerns.  At two in the morning, when the partying is either done, or ready to move to the next location, people don’t have a lot of patience, so they want something quick, easy and that doesn’t require too much thought.  Uber fits that description perfectly and that’s why despite opposition the company is growing at an exceptionally fast rate.

Why taxi cabs are scared:

Taxis are working on an antiquated dispatch system that is unreliable at best.  Larger companies like Mears Transportation have launched apps to attempt to compete, but that’s only a surface improvement.  In order to really have a chance their entire system needs a modern overhaul.  The general consensus is that taxi cabs are more expensive, far less reliable,  have lower quality and/or dirtier cars and have drivers that are either not personable, angry or (once again) “creepy.”  I think this has a lot to do with the structure.  Most cab drivers rent the car from their company.  They pay something along the lines of $100 to take the car for a twelve hour period.  That means they begin their day in the hole, having to make that money back before they begin to make money for themselves.  Then, they are pushed to maximize their twelve hours in order to make as much as possible.  This means that breaks, meals and naps are all discouraged during their on time.  I’m not sure about you, but after ten hours (or less!) sitting in a car, I’m ready for a nap, and that’s with several breaks.  It’s no wonder that a lot of cab drivers are irritable.

Realistically... this doesn't happen... (at least not involving the driver...)

Realistically… this doesn’t happen… (at least not involving the driver…)

In contrast, Uber is modern, easy and convenient for both the driver and rider.  As the driver It’s my car, so I’m inclined to keep it clean and take good care of it.  I drive when I want, for as long as I want and take breaks whenever I want to.  That means the only time you’ll see me driving is when I want to be driving.  If I don’t feel like it, I can simply shut the app off and take a walk, take a nap, or meet a friend for a meal.  Combine that with an app that allows the customer to summon me or another driver in three taps or less and you pair up happy riders with happy drivers.

Meanwhile for the rider you have an app-based, cashless system (your credit card is attached to the app.)  There is no worry about tips (you CAN tip, but as drivers we never expect it and don’t get grouchy about it… the point is to keep it all in the app) and no need to fumble for cash or a credit card.  You simply get in, get where you’re going and get out quickly and comfortably.  On top of that, in my experience Uber is about one-third to half the rate of a taxi during normal pricing.  Surge pricing can close that gap some, but it needs to be nearly three times our normal rate to match up in most cases (and if you wait twenty minutes the surge will probably reduce or go away completely.)

Orlando has only had Uber for about a year now, and it’s continuing to gain in popularity.  Feel free to drop me a line if you have any questions about riding or driving Uber.  I strongly recommend you give it a shot, and if you plug in a promo code given to you by an existing driver before your first ride, it will be free up to $20 (which can get you a long way!)  I shamelessly dropped my promo code a couple posts back, but since we’re on the subject, it is P9W5KUE.  You can use that for your first free trip and also if you’re interested in becoming a driver for some kind of kickback after so many miles.

They aren't slowing down.  At all.

They aren’t slowing down. At all.

I’m not so much concerned about any extra bonuses as I am getting more of you into using Uber though.  I really feel like it’s an ideal solution for modern transportation that is being embraced by all walks of life from the poor college student to the rich celebrities and everyone in between.  Furthermore, it builds connections between people that might otherwise not exist and enables those who otherwise wouldn’t have feasible transportation to more easily get around.  Whether the taxis like it or not, this is the future of private transportation and it’s good for everyone involved.  Their only choices are to evolve and keep up, or get left behind.

For a great and well-written article on typical Uber rides via GQ, check this out: http://www.gq.com/story/uber-cab-confessions

Thanks for reading!  

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3 comments

  1. But as an uber driver do you get paid more or less than a cab? I’ve spoken to a couple in my state and they told me they make a little less, but they just like the freedom the app offers.

    1. Hi! Considering how much higher Taxi fares are, I wouldn’t doubt that despite the $100 deficit, at the end of the day Taxi drivers take home more. However, I agree with your friend in that the freedom of being able to turn the app on and off at will more than makes up the difference. There is no stress of having to be constrained within a certain time or place, you just drive when you want to drive and shut it down when you’re not feeling it. It makes for a lower stress work environment and a better attitude / mood in general. I’m sure our riders can sense that. 🙂

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