I remember a story from four years ago, when UberCab was the newest thing. That was before it had a massive valuation, before Travis Kalanick was CEO, and before it changed its name to escape one of its countless legal brouhahas.
I was riding in an airport taxi — it was the first time in weeks that I had taken one. The driver, a hefty bearded man in his 50s, asked me if I had downloaded the TaxiMagic app yet.
“No,” I said, “the only taxi app that I use is UberCab.”
“Ha, you won’t be using that for much longer. We’re taking care of those guys.”
“What do you mean?” I got a little bit nervous — remember, this was before Uber was big and powerful and able to fight back.
“They claim to be taxis, but they’re not fooling anybody. They are just a bunch of towncar drivers trying to get fares. It’s not safe. It’s not legal. And we’re about to shut ‘em down.”
“Who is we?”
“All of us. The cab drivers association, the taxi commissioner.”
“And why do you guys prefer TaxiMagic?”
“Because, it plays by the rules and works with the system.”
That was four years ago. Some people may still use TaxiMagic. In the meantime, Uber is much more alive than that grizzled old taxi driver would have had us believe.
Uber does offer a taxi-dispatching service option, but I have only used it once out of the 500+ Uber rides that I have enjoyed in the last two years.
The one time that an Uber-dispatched taxi cab picked me up, the car smelled like vomit. Not a little bit — the cab literally reeked, as though it had been forged of vomit-infused steel from the fiery furnace of Mount Puke. It made me want to vomit. If I weren’t late for a VC pitch, I would have told him to pull over and gotten out of the car.
The other 499 rides have been either Uber or UberX. And I am proud that in each of those cases it meant that a San Francisco taxi driver was being denied a fare that he might have received from me in the pre-iPhone era.
Because, you see, I want to put San Francisco taxi drivers out of business. That’s one of the reasons I use Uber. That may not be Uber’s goal — but it is mine.
Why? Because taxi drivers don’t value the comfort and convenience of their passengers, and they view the taxi system as a livelihood for themselves rather than a mutually-beneficial service for the people of San Francisco.
I’m stereotyping, right?
No, actually, I’m not. It’s right here in the SFMTA’s official survey of taxi drivers:
The surveys of taxi users found that passengers want [credit card payment] capabilities. A majority of drivers surveyed (53%) do not agree with requiring units that have this capability. A lesser number (35%) agree with the requirement. Driver support would improve if it can be shown that net customer tipping rises with good
implementation (37% of drivers believe that credit card users are poor tippers), and if drivers could count on being paid their credit card charges at the end of their shift, instead of waiting a sometimes lengthy period for company processing…
That’s right — only a small minority of taxi drivers is in support of the credit card systems in the back of their cabs.
Why? Because they don’t want to be inconvenienced. They don’t like the idea that they will have to wait to get their money… Evidently, these cab drivers do not realize that the rest of us have to wait two weeks to get our hard-earned money each payday, regardless of how much or how little we make. They also don’t seem to care about our convenience.
If they did care about our convenience, then they wouldn’t ask us our destination before agreeing to pick us up. They wouldn’t talk on their phones the entire ride, which is both obnoxious and unsafe. They wouldn’t ignore the dispatcher when he sends them to our house. They wouldn’t constantly rant about politics. They wouldn’t insist that we give them cash, even when their credit card machine is working fine.
These problems are getting worse, not better — there was a 13 percent increase in passenger complaints last year according to SFMTA.
Are the taxi drivers working hard to improve the situation? Do they think that better customer service could improve taxi demand? No. When the MTA asked drivers to describe their greatest concern:
The most common response heard from drivers was their dissatisfaction with the SFMTA’s regulatory and enforcement activities in relation to…shared ride services.
Taxi drivers spend their days griping about how Government can’t stifle innovation and bring back the glory days of artificially-suppressed competition. Why attract satisfied customers when you can destroy popular competitors? That’s how they view the world.
For years, we San Franciscans clamored for more taxis, but at this point, I can’t think of a single friend who cares about the issue anymore.
Because none of my friends ride in taxis.
There are plenty of Ubers and Lyfts to go around, and we are helping solve our generation’s own underemployment problem by letting our friends (who drive for Lyft) pick us up in their cars and make money doing it. (This compares to the taxi system, which uses an archaic 15-year waiting list to force young people out of the industry.)
Uber and Lyft — no unions, no crazy regulations, no bullshit. And when I occasionally leave my phone or wallet in an Uber, I actually get it back.
There has been a lot of talk lately about whether Silicon Valley actually solves real problems. Fine publications and crappy tabloids alike beg the question — are we building the next Genentech, or are we simply creating fun toys for rich kids to play with? Most would point to Uber as an example of a toy — it brings nothing more than convenience to a select group of “haves” who can afford the premium service.
I view Uber and Lyft as much more than that.
In my opinion, they are doing a great service for the world: proving that the corrupt, broken systems of yesteryear will not survive in this new era. If you treat people like crap, no government agency will save you. No bribe or manipulation will get you out of your own self-created mess. We won’t confront you — we will find an efficient way around you.
For those of us who spent years putting up with the bullshit of the San Francisco Taxi drivers, dispatchers, and regulators, the rise of car sharing has given us the power to boycott. Together, we can put the medallion-wielding taxi drivers out of business for good.
And they will deserve it.
Some people may look at Uber and see a bunch of rich kids riding in style. That’s fine. I see it as accomplishing a much greater mission — destroying corrupt civic institutions. There is no mission more worthwhile.
[Image credit: atomicshark on Flickr]