A unique fight is happening on the streets of London at the moment as the black cab drivers are striking in an attempt to take on up and coming taxi apps such as Hailo and Uber (supported by Google) who are said to be undercutting their market. The simple answer is that Uber and Hailo are not illegaly undercutting the market, they are simply disrupting it because they’re better alternatives in a market that has stayed relatively unchanged for many many years. As customers we want convenient and reasonably priced ways to travel in some of the worlds biggest cities and how many times have you got into a cab and wondered if you were safe or if you were going to get overcharged?
Uber offers a service that bypasses the numerous quirks people have with taxi companies, you can setup an account and pair it with your credit card so you get charged immediately after exiting the vehicle (no more fumbling around with cash and change), the app offers a tracking option that you can even share with people if you’re a bit paranoid. There are also driver and passenger ratings which encourages great customer service as Uber will penalise and ban drivers if their rating drops below a certain threshold. Taxi drivers are angry because they feel that using a Uber’s smartphone app to calculate fares is akin to using a taximeter, this issue is being dealt with by the high court and it would be difficult for me to present a clear argument without knowing all the intricacies. It does seem a little petulant to strike simply because someone else is innovating and offers a better service than you do.
My father has been a taxi driver for many years and it boggles my mind how they even pass the infamous ‘Knowledge’ test but we are now operating in a sharing economy (AirBNB comes to mind) and in the end it will be the consumers who come out on top. On the matter of cost Uber is usually much cheaper than a black cab because it relies on some basic economic elements of supply and demand to work out prices. When demand is high, prices go up (during Hurricane Sandy in New York, Uber prices doubled for example; Friday nights are also more expensive). A test was even carried out on the news last night where two journeys were made, one in a black cab in London and one in an Uber car. The black cab ended up taking a shorter route but charging more which seems really counter-intuitive. Similar protests have sparked up in other major cities with Uber cars being attacked in Paris and outright banned in Berlin although slowly but surely customers are speaking with their wallets and going for the service that is the most efficient, effective and enjoyable.
History has shown us countless times that progresses cannot be stopped through industrial action or regulations. Hailo co-founder Ron Zeghibe said recently “The worst thing the taxi industry could do now is deny that things are changing and hold on to the past. Complaining is not a strategy” and he was right on point. As of yesterday the strike actually increased Uber downloads by 850% and Uber became one of the most trending words in the world. The cabbies made themselves look bad and increased awareness of a superior service all in one day, the knee jerk reaction to discourage change happening in the taxi sector has backfired beautifully and I cannot wait to see how this situation develops. I don’t wish to say that ride sharing / taxi apps are the future of driving but a shake up is definitely what the industry needed and there is no better feeling than waiting out the front of a house party with all the other people waiting for cabs and suddenly an Uber Mercedes pulls up especially for you.